Increasing violence in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger has led to a 62 percent spike in deaths and more than a million people being forced to flee their homes over the last year. This rise in fighting is jeopardizing access to basic services, including health care, and affecting a fragile economy even as COVID-19 poses new threats, International Committee of the Red Cross President Peter Maurer said during a trip to the region.
Civilians are paying the highest price for the surge in violence. More than 4,660 people died in the first six months of 2020, according to data from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project. The ICRC is extremely concerned about the level of violence and recalls that, under international humanitarian law, the civilian population must be protected and spared.
Climate change effects add a complicating layer to an already dramatic humanitarian situation. Record hot spells and unpredictable weather patterns such as the current floods tend to exacerbate inter-communal tensions and violence.
“The combination of rising violence and deaths, shuttered health care facilities, climate change effects and the COVID-19 pandemic make this a complex and multilayered crisis,” said Mr Maurer, who visited Niger and Burkina Faso over the last week. “People here are facing a battering ram of challenges leading to intense suffering for families.”
Healthcare access is essential amid conflict and during a global pandemic. But in Mali, an estimated 20 percent of health centres are partially damaged or destroyed. In Burkina Faso, 14 percent of health centres are closed or working at limited capacity.
Military confrontations and forced displacements are increasingly limiting access to agricultural fields, depriving households reliant on agriculture of food. Humanitarian access to communities affected by the fighting is becoming more difficult in some areas, exacerbating the vulnerability of those in need.
Given the challenges, the ICRC recently allocated an additional 12 million Swiss francs (about $13.2 million) to its operational budget for the Sahel region. These funds will be dedicated to seeking enhanced protection for civilians, backing the provision of essential services and supporting conflict-affected communities to restore their livelihoods.
“Government budgets are strained globally due to the health and job repercussions of COVID-19, but it’s clear that this region of the world needs assistance to alleviate the crippling consequences of both armed conflict and climate risks,” said Mr Maurer.