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Press Release

IRC warns of spike in humanitarian needs in Sahel states, as civilian deaths in Sahel states increase eighteen fold

  • As military response fails to stop violence, humanitarian needs will spike
  • Civilian deaths in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger increase by 1870%

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. Despite rapidly rising humanitarian needs, the response is jeopardised by significant underfunding. The Ministerial Round Table in Berlin provides an opportunity for the UK to demonstrate leadership in addressing the causes of instability, and financing the humanitarian response. 

Laura Kyrke-Smith, IRC UK Executive Director, said,

“Although the Central Sahel crisis is a protracted one, what we are seeing this year is especially worrying. Last week Mark Lowcock, UN Humanitarian Chief said ‘nothing worries me more than the Sahel’ – a damning indictment given his responsibility for crises including Syria and Yemen. This is not the same crisis it has historically been. The violence and instability that has engulfed the Sahel are issues of regional and international concern. 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-militarised 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 jeopardises 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 prioritisation 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.

“Political commitments from Ministers in Berlin are needed to address the impact of an over-militarised approach to the crisis which fails to address the root causes of the conflict, and constrains humanitarian access.

“The UK Government should seek to maximise existing investments in the region. Funding delivered to date, the establishment of a new embassy in Niger, and troop deployments to Mali all send a clear message of commitment. In Berlin the UK should build on this reputation and demonstrate the scope for the FCDO to deliver a coherent diplomatic and development response. One that first, prioritises investment in the humanitarian response and demonstrates the importance of UK aid spending, and second, drives efforts to put civilian protection at the heart of the response through concerted UK diplomatic engagement. Cuts to the UK aid budget and contributions to the region will only advance the inevitable impacts of failure to address this crisis: rising hunger, and increased conflict that will needlessly put millions of lives at risk.” 

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


About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 29 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue-uk.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.