UN says crisis-hit Sahel at breaking point as donors pledge $1.7bn
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By Albert Otti, Lennart Simonsson and Christiane Oelrich
Geneva/Copenhagen - A donor conference for Sahel countries is expected to bring in 1.7 billion dollars in pledges on Tuesday, but a broader strategy beyond emergency aid is needed to stabilize the region, UN leaders said.
"The central Sahel region is at a breaking point," UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said at the online conference hosted by the government of Denmark, along with Germany, the European Union and the United Nations.
The region on the southern rim of the Sahara desert is not only faced with a hunger crisis, extremists and criminal groups. It is also affected by climate change, as farmers and herders fight over dwindling fertile land.
"Violence is rising, and women and girls are especially vulnerable," Guterres said.
The number of people who have been uprooted from their homes in the region has increased more than twentyfold to 1.6 million since 2020.
More than 30 million people in the central Sahel countries Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso - one fifth of the population in the three countries - are in need of life-saving humanitarian aid and protection.
UN emergency aid chief Mark Lowcock said the expected pledged sum was a "substantial success," but he stressed that focusing on aid alone will not bring about long-lasting solutions.
"There needs to be a military response to deal with the fact that terrorists and extremists are taking large areas of land," he told a press conference.
Humanitarian aid must continue while security is being brought under control, and it essential to win the confidence of the local population, Lowcock said.
In addition, investment in economic development is needed for the region's fast-growing population.
The aim is "to give people hope for the future so that the nihilistic agenda of extremists is countered by a better alternative," the UN official said.
Lowcock told dpa that aid pledges are an investment against extremists and criminal groups in Sahel countries who seek to smuggle drugs, arms, people and ideologies to Europe and other regions.
"If things deteriorate in an alarming way there there will be consequences and implications for everybody," he warned.
Ahead of the conference, the UN had only received funds and pledges for 550 million dollars of the total 1.4 billion dollars that are needed for urgent humanitarian aid in the three central Sahel countries this year.
The UN estimates it will need 1.56 billion dollars next year.
The European Union pledged 43.6 million euros (51 million dollars) for this year on Tuesday, while Denmark announced 150 million euros for 2020 and the next two years.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said his country pledged 100 million euros in humanitarian assistance for 2020, and the following years.
The EU's crisis management commissioner, Janez Lenarcic, stressed that the quality of governance has to improve in the central Sahel countries, because the needs of the people are not being met.
"The purpose of government is not the enrichment of its members," the European Commission member said at the press conference.