The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is alarmed about the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis in the Central Sahel states of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, with a record 13.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance across the region – a nearly 60% increase since January in the wake of COVID-19 and escalating conflict. Over 1.5 million people are now internally displaced across the region – a 320% increase since the beginning of 2019 and one of the fastest growing displacements globally.  As we approach the Ministerial Roundtable on the Central Sahel on October 20, IRC calls upon international actors to re-balance their approach from a heavily militarized response to a greater focus on responding to the basic needs of the population by increasing humanitarian access.

Paul Taylor, Regional Vice President for West Africa at the IRC says, 

“Although the Central Sahel crisis is a protracted one, what we are seeing this year is especially worrying. This is not the same crisis it has historically been. Civilians in the Central Sahel are worse off in 2020 by nearly every measure – more likely to need humanitarian aid, be displaced, face food insecurity, or die from conflict – than at any other point in the previous decade. More than 7 million people are acutely food insecure – a tripling since last year – and this number is expected to grow to almost 13 million by the end of this year.  In 2019, civilian deaths in the region rose by a staggering 1870% compared to 2016, with civilian deaths linked to militias increasing by 8,500% in just four years from 2015 to 2019.”

“Humanitarian considerations and the protection of civilians have come too low on the priorities of the international community. An over-militarized approach to a complex humanitarian crisis, alongside  chronic underfunding of the response, fails to address - and sometimes exacerbates - the root causes of the conflict, which prevents agencies from being able to reach those in need and jeopardizes the humanitarian response. More funding is needed to reach the most vulnerable amid escalating violence, record displacement and rising food insecurity, yet, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger have all received less than 40% of funding required. It is also crucial that donors and UN member states re-balance their investments in the Central Sahel region with greater prioritization of the humanitarian response to address protection concerns and provide access to basic services. International actors should press for all parties to the conflict to promote civilian protection and abide by International Humanitarian Law, including by ensuring unfettered humanitarian access.”

The IRC has been working in the Central Sahel since 2012 reaching communities in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso through programs in water and sanitation, education, healthcare, economic livelihoods, rapid response mechanisms, emergency support and protection.