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Over $8 billion pledged for Africa’s Sahel region as global leaders begin UN-led visit

A field of withered crops in Mali’s Kayes region.
WFP/Daouda Guirou
A field of withered crops in Mali’s Kayes region.

Over $8 billion pledged for Africa’s Sahel region as global leaders begin UN-led visit

Global leaders have pledged over $8 billion to boost economic growth in the Sahel region of West Africa as they begin a United Nations-led visit to an area that has suffered for decades from devastating poverty, hunger and instability.

“The challenges in the Sahel respect no borders – neither should our solutions. The cycle of crises can be broken,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who arrives in Bamako, Mali, today with other development leaders.

The Sahel has suffered three major droughts in less than a decade. More than 11 million people are at risk of hunger and 5 million children under five are at risk of acute malnutrition. In addition, political instability and unconstitutional changes in Governments have had significant economic and social consequences in the region and terrorist acts, as well as organized crime, have threatened the region’s stability.

“By working together and investing in governance, security, resilience and opportunity for women and young people, we can help the Sahel move from fragility to sustainability,” said Mr. Ban. “Fighting fires in the Sahel remains crucial, but we also need to clear away problems that ignite conflict and instability.”

The World Bank Group has pledged $1.5 billion in new regional investments over the next two years, in additional to significant country programmes, while the European Union (EU) has announced it will provide €5 billion ($6.75 billion) to six countries over the next seven years.

“The people of the Sahel region desperately need more secure living standards, and our hope is this funding helps build a new path for economic growth in the region,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim.

“For too long, the people of the Sahel, especially women, have struggled with the devastating impact of too little economic growth and opportunity, a harsh climate, hunger, high fertility rates and the world’s highest number of maternal and child deaths.”

The announcements come as the leaders begin a historic trip to Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Chad to discuss peace, security and resilience in the region. It is the second joint visit by the heads of the UN and the World Bank to Africa in six months.

In May, Mr. Ban and Dr. Kim travelled to the Great Lakes region, drawing attention to the same issue of promoting both peace and development. During that trip, Dr. Kim pledged $1 billion for regional projects to improve health, education, nutrition, access to energy and job training.

Also making the current trip are Andris Piebalgs, EU Commissioner for Development; African Union Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma; and African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka.

The World Bank’s pledges for the next two years will support major regional development priorities such as social safety nets to help families weather the worst effects of economic adversity and natural disasters, improve infrastructure and create opportunities in rural areas.

The funding will also create more hydropower and other sources of clean energy to greatly expand irrigation and transform agriculture; protect and expand herding for more than 80 million people living in the Sahel who rely on it as a major source of food and livelihoods; expand health services for women and girls; and improve regional communications and connectivity between countries, among other goals.

The EU’s support to Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Chad (subject to approval by the European Parliament and the European Council) will aim to help those countries tackle the specific and complex challenges of the Sahel region: security and stability, development and resilience to crises.

Governance, rule of law and security, delivery of social services, agriculture and food security, as well as regional trade and integration will be at the heart of the development programmes from 2014 to 2020.

“The Sahel is a priority for the European Union where it mobilizes all its instruments to address a complex situation,” said Mr. Piebalgs. “We are determined to continue and increase our support to both the States and people of the Sahel. Our approach is built on the principle that security is a pre-requisite for growth – there can be no development without it.”