• In 2019, civilian deaths rose by a staggering 1870% compared to 2016, with fatalities increasing by 3370% in Burkina Faso, 2400% in Niger and 1052% in Mali.
  • There are a record 13.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance across the Sahel region - an increase of 60% since January. 
  • More than 7 million people are acutely food insecure – a tripling since last year – and this number is expected to grow to almost 13 million by the end of this year.
  • More than 1.5 million people are now internally displaced, marking a 320% increase since the beginning of 2019. 

Ahead of the Ministerial Roundtable on the Sahel in Copenhagen on 20 October, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is calling on the EU to shift away from an overly-securitized response to the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis in the Central Sahel states of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. 

Civilians in this region are worse off in 2020 by nearly every measure – more likely to need humanitarian aid, be displaced, face food insecurity, or die from conflict – than at any other point in the previous decade. 

The crisis coincides with a notable expansion of European and regional security forces in the Sahel this year. At capacity this would surpass 26,000 personnel, in addition to tens of thousands of national troops. 

The EU provides strategic advice and training to local security forces in Niger and Mali through its Common Security and Defence and Policy (CSDP) missions. However, this support to the military and security dimension of the response must not overshadow the urgent requirement to respond to the basic needs of the population.

We’re calling on the EU to use its influence and presence in the region to champion a robust humanitarian response to the ongoing crisis. It must press for all actors involved in the conflict to ensure unfettered humanitarian access, and abide by International Humanitarian Law. 
Imogen Sudbery, Director of Policy and Advocacy for Europe at the IRC, says: 

“People in the Sahel are facing a deadly cocktail of militarisation, food insecurity and climate change – all of which are being exacerbated by a public health emergency and COVID-driven economic downturn. In this fragile environment, the international community’s decision to double down on its militarised approach is counterproductive. Rather than protecting vulnerable populations it compounds the crisis faced by civilians, who risk being killed or injured by these security forces as well as other actors involved in the conflict. 

The EU has provided generous humanitarian support to the most vulnerable in the region. However, the time has come for it to step up humanitarian diplomacy and demonstrate bold political leadership. The EU must use its weighty influence in the region to press for a national humanitarian access strategy and to urge all parties involved to abide by International Humanitarian Law. It must also secure flexible funding that meets the extraordinary needs of this evolving crisis.

With millions of lives on the line, this conference cannot simply be a talking shop. The EU must seize this opportunity to change direction, and shift from an overly-securitized response to one that genuinely addresses the needs of people in the Sahel.”   
Paul Taylor, Regional Vice President for West Africa at the IRC, says:

“Humanitarian considerations and the protection of civilians have come too low on the priorities of the international community. An over-militarized approach to a complex humanitarian crisis, alongside chronic underfunding of the humanitarian response, fails to address - and sometimes exacerbates - the root causes of the conflict constraining humanitarian access. More funding is necessary for frontline organisations working in the field and committed to respecting humanitarian principles; Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger have all received less than 40% of funding required for their 2020 Humanitarian Response Plans.

With more funding, it is also crucial that donors and UN member states re-balance their investments in the Central Sahel region with greater prioritization of the humanitarian response to address needs such as protection and access to basic services. International actors should press for all parties to the conflict to promote civilian protection and abide by International Humanitarian Law, including by unfettered humanitarian access.” 

The IRC has been working in the Central Sahel since 2012 reaching communities in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso through programs in water and sanitation, education, healthcare, economic livelihoods, rapid response mechanisms, emergency support and protection.