United Nations, Jan. 22, 2021 (NAN) The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says a “grim milestone” has been reached in the Sahel with no fewer than two million people displaced by unrelenting violence.
“Needs are surging across a region where multiple crises converge including armed conflict, extreme poverty, food insecurity, climatic changes, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The extreme vulnerability of the Sahel has been laid bare by the impact of forced displacement.
“This is caused by widespread and gruesome violence perpetrated by armed insurgent groups and criminal gangs,” UNHCR said on Friday.
The Sahel, which includes Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger and Nigeria’s extreme north, is home to some of the world’s least developed countries.
According to the agency, internal displacement in the region has increased fourfold in just two years.
It said there were 490,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IPDs) at the beginning of 2019, more than half of whom were from Burkina Faso.
The Sahel also hosts over 850,000 refugees, mainly from Mali, it added.
“Already this year, violence in Niger and Burkina Faso has forced more than 21,000 people to flee their homes and seek refuge within their own countries.
“In Burkina Faso, since Dec. 31, a series of armed attacks on the town of Koumbri and nearby villages in the North of the country have displaced more than 11,000 people.
“Most are women and children who fled at night after attackers began shooting at their homes.
“They have reached safety and are now staying within local communities in Ouahigouya and Barga, some 35 kilometres away,” UNHCR said.
The agency warned that the communities hosting the displaced had reached a breaking point.
Many of the IDPs, it said, lack basic needs like shelter in spite of the generosity of their hosts.
UNHCR added that they were in urgent need of water and access to medical and sanitation services to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“The humanitarian response is dangerously overstretched, and UNHCR is urging the international community to redouble its support for the region.
“States must act now to help Sahel countries address the root causes of this forced displacement, to boost strategic and sustainable development.
“And to strengthen institutions such as schools and hospitals, many of which have shut due to ongoing violence.The situation has worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” it noted.
The agency enumerated its interventions in the region to include provision of shelter, relief items, hygiene materials and cash.