Ten million children living in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, twice as many as in 2020 due to intensifying conflicts, UNICEF warned Friday.
"Armed conflict is increasingly affecting children, who are victims of intensified military clashes or targeted by non-state armed groups," said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF regional director for West and Central Africa, in a statement announcing a new report on the situation.
As hostilities between armed groups and national security forces spill across borders, nearly 4 million children are at risk in neighboring countries, according to the UN agency's new report.
Data collected by the UN in Burkina Faso confirmed that “the number of children killed in the first nine months of 2022 had tripled compared to the same period in 2021.”
"The year 2022 has been particularly violent for children in the central Sahel," said Poirier, calling for an urgent end to attacks on children and their schools, health centers and homes.
The violence has led to the closure of more than 8,300 schools in the three countries, with more than one in five schools closed in Burkina Faso and 30% of schools not functioning in Tillaberi, Niger, according to the report.
"These schools are either directly targeted and teachers have fled, or parents have been displaced or are afraid to send their children there," it said.
It added that by the end of 2022, nine schools in the northern regions of Benin and Togo had closed or were no longer functioning due to insecurity.
The situation is combined with climate change, which is damaging agricultural production and creating the need for food aid.
"This crisis is taking place in one of the regions of the world most affected by climate change. In the Sahel, temperatures are rising at a rate 1.5 times faster than the global average. Rainfall has become more erratic and intense, causing flooding that reduces agricultural yields and contaminates already scarce water resources," the report said.
In the face of conflicts characterized by "increased violence" where armed groups are blocking supply routes, the UNICEF report estimated that, "more than 20,000 people living in the border area between these three countries will reach a level of food insecurity described as catastrophic by June 2023."
Several humanitarian organizations have previously warned of a general food crisis in the Sahel.
More than 7.5 million people are expected to be food insecure in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger during the lean season between June and August 2023, while many more children will face severe hunger over the next six months.
Source: Anadolu Agency