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A village in the Soum region in northern Burkina Faso A village in the Soum region in northern Burkina Faso  (AFP or licensors)

UN warns of imminent humanitarian crisis in the Sahel

The United Nations expresses fears a humanitarian crisis is growing in West Africa’s arid Sahel region. More than 860,000 people have been displaced in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger due to insecurity linked to growing extremist attacks.

By Linda Bordoni

"If the world is serious about saving lives, the time to act is now," says David Beasley, the Executive Director of the UN’s World Food Programme.

His appeal comes as WFP teams on the ground are seeing malnutrition levels “pushed well past emergency thresholds” with young children and new mothers in particularly dangerous situations.

Nearly half a million people have been displaced this year in Burkina Faso alone as the landlocked country becomes the new hunting ground for extremists linked to the Islamic State group and al-Qaida.

In fact, the UN’s World Food Programme noted, Burkina Faso saw more attacks in the first half of this year than it did in all of 2018 and a third of the country is now a conflict zone.

Fertile ground for jihadists

Farmers have been forced to abandon their fields, and as communities take in displaced people, already stretched resources are further depleted.

WFP is assisting more than 2.6 million people in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. It says 150 million US dollars are urgently needed in a region where some 20 million people live in conflict-affected areas.

Analysts observe that in a region, that in itself, already has a lot of problems” such as drought, poverty, weak government, unemployment and lack of services, extremists find fertile ground to exploit those troubles and deprived communities turn on each other amid allegations of supporting the jihadists.

Pope Francis’ appeal

Pope Francis issued an appeal for the promotion of interreligious dialogue in Burkina Faso just last week. He called on authorities to protect vulnerable civilians and step up their efforts to find a solution to the violence.

“I encourage civil and religious authorities and all those motivated by good will to multiply their efforts, in the spirit of the Abu Dhabi Document on Human Fraternity, to promote interreligious dialogue and harmony”, he said speaking during his weekly General Audience in the Vatican.

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19 November 2019, 16:18