UNICEF says the number of children at grave risk has doubled since 2020 as armed groups continue to spread violence in the region.
Ten million children in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger are in dire need of humanitarian assistance as a result of the spiraling conflict.
In a report published on Friday, the United Nations children’s agency said nearly four million more children were at risk in neighboring countries as fighting between armed groups and national security forces spilled over into the border
“Children are increasingly caught up in armed conflict as victims of escalating military clashes, or targeted by non-state armed groups,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF regional director for West and Central Africa.
“The year 2022 will be particularly violent for children in the central Sahel. All parties to the conflict must immediately stop attacks on both children and their schools, health centers, and homes.”
The central Sahel has been fraught with instability since ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda-affiliated armed groups began jockeying for power.
The violence, which first took root in Mali after a 2012 uprising in the north of the country, has since spread. in total the Sahel and reached West African countries. The attacks also ignited communal tensions driven on the part of the extreme climate change.
‘Severe food insecurity’
Armed groups fighting for supremacy and control of resources have left more than 18.6 million people in the region experiencing “severe food insecurity” – an increase of 5.6 million since the end of June 2022.
Burkina Faso, Niger, and Nigeria were the hardest hit, according to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres report released in January. About 6.3 million people have been displaced across the Sahel, an increase of 300,000 since June.
A UNICEF report highlighted that the number of children at risk has doubled since 2020. In Burkina Faso, three times as many children were killed in the first nine months of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021, according to UN data.
“Most of the children died from bullet wounds during attacks on their villages, or as a result of improvised explosive devices or explosive remnants of war,” the report said.
The report highlights how armed groups blockade towns and villages in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, sabotage water networks, oppose state-run education, burn and loot schools, and threaten , kidnap or kill teachers.
“More than 20,000 people on the border between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger will be in ‘catastrophe’-level food insecurity by June 2023,” the report said. “More than 8,300 schools have closed in the three countries because they are directly targeted.”
Violence in the central Sahel has increased along the northern border regions of Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo – an area already suffering from scarce infrastructure and resources.
Calling for an “urgent” and “stronger” humanitarian response, Poirier said the crisis in the central Sahel and neighboring countries also requires long-term flexible investment in resilient social services that will help build a better future for children.