A record 29 million people in the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin need humanitarian assistance in 2021, according to the UN Refugee Agency.
Conflict in the Sahel has worsened and spread to new areas, making it the key driver of needs, the UNHCR said in a report Tuesday.
Civilians end up paying the price. Due to an increasing number of deadly attacks by terrorist groups, gender-based violence, extortion or intimidation, 5.3 million among them are forced to flee, often multiple times.
It said both in the Central Sahel and in the Lake Chad Basin, violence is showing no sign of abating: security incidents, attacks and kidnappings are a daily reality for millions of civilians.
From 2015 to 2020, the number of violent attacks increased eightfold in the Central Sahel and tripled in the Lake Chad Basin, according to the UNHCR.
"Our response to what is an unprecedented humanitarian + protection crisis, triggering the displacement of millions of persons, must also include the host communities which generously share the little resources they have," Xavier Creach, the UNHCR's coordinator for the Sahel region, said in a tweet late Tuesday.
"We must ensure that displaced & host communities continue to coexist peacefully, at a time when #Covid19 pandemic has a devastating impact on livelihoods, particularly those living from hand to mouth," Creach added.
The report said the impact of violence on women and children is devastating. In emergency contexts, incidents of gender-based violence (GBV) spike.
"Women and girls in local communities are exposed to the widespread and increasing risk of being abducted, married by force, sexually assaulted and raped."
The worst-affected communities are also suffering the most from incomplete and unequally distributed multisectoral care and protection services.
The UNHCR said the Sahel countries have some of the world’s highest rates of child and forced marriage.
In Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger, between half and three quarters of children are married and one adolescent girl out of two is giving birth before the age of 18.
The impact of the current crisis further increases risks of forced marriage.
In addition to gender-based violence, children are also exposed to child labor, economic exploitation, child recruitment and abuse, physical and verbal violence and psychological distress, according to the UN Refugee Agency./aa