Humanitarian needs in the Sahel continue to be on the rise as a result of the combined effect of conflicts, sudden changes in weather patterns, food shortages, and disease outbreaks. On top of the socio-economic effects brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, it is also putting strains on weak health systems and already dire humanitarian needs. An estimated 38.1 million people across the region are in need of urgent humanitarian aid (HRP, 2020), including more than 20 million requiring emergency food assistance.
Conflict is disrupting the lives of many fragile communities in the Sahel. More than 6.8 million people have been forced to flee their areas of origin in search of safety. Their access to basic services is becoming more and more challenging. Protection needs are on the rise, with gender-based violence and child protection being among the main humanitarian concerns. The sudden large influx of people puts pressure on hosting communities’ limited natural resources, fueling more inter-community tensions. Besides, violence makes it increasingly difficult for humanitarian workers to reach the people in need.
Vulnerable people living in conflict-hit areas in the Sahel are facing, for the fourth consecutive year, a food crisis as a result of the combined effect of the challenges in the region.
Up to 3 million children in the Sahel are at risk of severe acute malnutrition and need emergency life-saving treatment. The situation could quickly deteriorate further in conflict-affected areas already grappling with food shortages and an ever more difficult access to malnutrition treatment facilities.
Against this backdrop, the coronavirus pandemic is posing additional challenges, both as concerns the pressure on already fragile health systems but also the effects of the containment measures on vulnerable people’s access to food and livelihoods.
The European Union is one of the largest donors of humanitarian aid to the Sahel. In 2020, its humanitarian assistance to the Sahel region stands at more than €189.4 million.
Aid is provided to both displaced people and the host communities. EU humanitarian assistance supports people affected by conflict and insecurity, providing them with shelter, emergency food and nutritional aid, access to health care and clean water, to treatment for malnourished children, and protection for the vulnerable. In addition, EU funding ensures safe access to education for the children affected by armed conflicts.
Support is also given to disaster risk reduction initiatives to help countries better prepare for, and reduce the impact of, natural hazards related to climate, and their effects on food availability.
Given the new challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, EU-funded humanitarian projects in the Sahel are adopting measures and adapting existing ones within their projects to help beneficiaries and staff keep safe while continuing to provide life-saving assistance to vulnerable communities. Actions already focusing on the health sector will continue helping local health centres in providing access to health care and in epidemics control and prevention. Humanitarian funding is also supporting detection and response measures to the coronavirus pandemic, mainly through the World Health Organization (WHO). The EU also operated Humanitarian Aid Bridge flights to Burkina Faso and to the Central African Republic to help relief items and humanitarian workers reach the people in need, at a time where transport restrictions were holding up commercial flights.
To help vulnerable communities facing recurrent and more frequent threats and challenges, humanitarian aid (which covers immediate, short-term needs) and development aid (which ensures longer-term resilience and addresses the root causes of the problems) work together in the Sahel to strengthen communities’ ability to cope with these challenges.