The Security Council today voiced serious concern over the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Africa’s Sahel region, saying that the presence of armed and terrorist groups, as well as the proliferation of weapons in the area, have exacerbated the problem.
In a presidential statement read out at the end of briefing on peacekeeping operations, the 15-member United Nations body also strongly condemned the seizure of power in Mali by members of the armed forces.
“The Security Council condemns the acts initiated and carried out by mutinous troops against the democratically-elected government and demands they cease all violence and return to their barracks,” said the statement read by Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant of the United Kingdom, which holds the Council presidency for the month of March. “The Security Council calls for the restoration of constitutional order, and the holding of elections as previously scheduled.”
Due to poor rainfall and failed harvests, the Sahel region is currently in the grip of a food crisis, with some 15 million people estimated to be at risk of food insecurity.
Late last week, rebel Malian soldiers took control of the country and announced the dissolution of the Government led by President Amadou Toumani Toure. Ambassador Lyall Grant spoke out against the rebellion in comments to the press last week; as did Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other officials in separate statements.
Monday’s presidential statement also condemned the attacks by rebel groups against Malian Government forces and urged the insurgents to cease all violence and to seek a peaceful solution through political dialogue. The Council stressed the need to “uphold and respect the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Mali.”
In the wider Sahel region, the Council noted that drought, food shortages and the return of thousands of people from Libya following last year’s civil strife, were other factors that have made the hardship worse for residents there. It said it had been informed that millions of Sahelians are affected by the crisis and that thousands have been forced to migrate to neighbouring countries where conditions are better.
The Council urged national authorities, international, regional and sub-regional organizations to take urgent steps to strengthen their concerted efforts to address the challenges facing the region in an effective manner.
Its members welcomed the emergency programmes undertaken by authorities in the affected countries, as well as efforts by regional and sub-regional organizations – such as the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States – to help alleviate the Sahel’s food and nutrition crisis. They also encouraged the international community to help resolve the crisis in Mali and the wider region, based on an integrated strategy that addresses people’s immediate and long-term needs, encompassing security, development and humanitarian issues.
In its statement, the Council commended the joint efforts of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and other UN agencies to provide assistance and draw international attention to the scale of the problem in the Sahel.
On a visit to Burkina Faso last week, OCHA’s Director of Operations, John Ging, commended that country for providing hospitality to the 22,000 refugees who recently arrived from Mali.
“In a world that can be inhospitable to refugees, the people and Government of Burkina Faso provide us with a role model for humanity and hospitality for people seeking refuge and escaping conflict,” said Mr. Ging at the end of his two-day visit on Friday.
He also said that with two million people in Burkina Faso in need of humanitarian assistance because of the food and nutrition crisis in the region, the country’s Government and partners have developed a humanitarian and development response plan that takes a “commendably innovative approach” that goes beyond the most urgent needs to also focus on strengthening the population’s longer-term resilience to future crises.
The response plan requires a total of $224 million to implement. The Government of Burkina Faso is contributing $37 million, while donors have pledged $79 million, leaving a shortfall of $108 million, according to OCHA.