The United Nations have reported a hike in violent attacks in Chad and the Sahel regions in the north of Cameroon and Nigeria that have left many in need of humanitarian assistance.
In recent years, large parts of the western Sahel, a semi-arid region directly south of the Sahara Desert, have been plagued by violence that involves multiple armed groups, military campaigns by national armies and international partners as well as local militias.
A record 29 million people in six countries of the unrest-hit Sahel region are in need of humanitarian assistance and another five million people are also in need of assistance in Burkina Faso, northern Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Niger and northeastern Nigeria.
“The conflict in Sahel is growing wider, more complex and involving more armed actors,” said Xavier Creach, Sahel coordinator for the United Nations’ refugee agency (UNHCR) and deputy director for West and Central Africa.
“Civilians end up paying the price as they face an increasing number of deadly attacks, gender-based violence, extortion or intimidation, and are forced to flee, often multiple times.”
The region was plunged into conflict in 2012 when armed groups overtook a rebellion by ethnic Tuareg separatists in northern Mali. France led an intervention the next year to beat back the armed groups, which scattered and regrouped before taking their campaign into central Mali in 2015 and then into neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso.
In a statement co-signed by the Norwegian Refugee Council and Plan International NGOs, the violence has led to the closure of thousands of schools across the region, while 1.6 million children are projected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition.
“We’ve seen hunger jump by almost a third in West Africa – to the highest levels in the best part of a decade,” the statement quoted Chris Nikoi, a regional director of UN’s World Food Programme, as saying.
He added that soaring food prices linked to the violence were driving hunger and malnutrition.
The signatories called for more funding to address the deteriorating humanitarian situation.