Sahel: Africa’s Most Crisis-Prone Region

The Sahel crisis is one of the world's fastest-growing yet most neglected crises.

The Sahel is the semi-arid region of Africa, that separates the Sahara Desert to the north and Savannas to the south and stretches from west to Senegal and the east to Eritrea, is among the richest regions in the world, with abundant energy and natural resources like gold, uranium, and oil. Still, it is the least developed region in the world, where thousands of its inhabitants are in the grip of grinding poverty, confronted with security threats, chronic diseases, and harsh climates that bring droughts and floods. These crises force families to abandon their lands and homes, travel for weeks or months, leave everything behind, and risk their lives to find safety in other areas.

Poverty and food insecurity are also prevalent in the Sahel. About 18.6 million people face acute hunger, with many on the brink of starvation and 8.5 million children under the age of 5 are severely malnourished. Instability is rife and security incidents, attacks, and kidnappings have become a daily routine for millions. Analysts say people are celebrating coups because they are frustrated by constant instability. Thus, this article delves into the challenges faced by the Sahel region and emphasizes how addressing these challenges and collective efforts can bring a positive change in the region.

The Sahel crisis is one of the world’s fastest-growing yet most neglected crises. Recently, the situation in the Sahel has deteriorated significantly as the region has proved to be a fertile ground for conflict and violence. Conflict is more likely to increase in this region, particularly with the expansion of various extremist groups like Boko Haram, al-Qaida, and Islamic State-affiliated groups. In Mali, right-wing extremism will remain a threat, despite national and international efforts to halt it. Religious extremists might have been dispersed, but have not been halted. Communities are exposed to violent attacks, targeted killings, abductions, and harassment. The violence destroys jobs, property, health facilities, and schools. As a result of these conflicts, Sahelians are being squeezed by violence in both the north and the south. The region is now among the ten most vulnerable areas in the world because of violent extremism and other issues like climate change.

As the world battles climate change, global warming is around 50 percent greater in the Sahel. As a result, the region suffered the worst droughts and floods than anywhere on the planet. Despite being among the regions with the lowest CO2 emissions worldwide, Sahelian countries are among those most severely affected by climate change. Some studies argue that the concept of ‘normal’ annual rainfall is almost meaningless in the Sahel and the region is slowly turning into a desert. Food shortages are recurrent and millions of people in the region face food insecurity due to the prolonged drought, poor accessibility to food, high grain prices, and environmental degradation. Together, these worsening weather patterns have created a vicious cycle of poverty, instability, and communal violence. It is estimated that 13.5 million more people could fall into poverty by 2050 if urgent action is not taken to tackle climate change.

The situation has gone from bad to worse in much of the region and the crisis has become the reality for millions of people in the Sahelian countries. They do not have access to potable drinking water as well as improved sanitation facilities. Consequently, people in the region face multiple disease outbreaks such as cholera, and measles and the cases of preventable diseases such as polio, malaria, meningitis, and hepatitis E continue to increase. These diseases put a significant strain on the already limited healthcare systems in the region. Likewise, the impact of diseases is not limited to physical health. It can also have socio-economic consequences. When individuals fall ill, they may not be able to work or provide for their families, leading to a loss of income and increased poverty levels in the region.

Logically, the populace is upset and wants an immediate change in the region. The West has been failing in the Sahel by neglecting and paying little attention to the needs of the Sahel. Instead, they have often put their interests first, leaving the Sahel without adequate funding and support, therefore the region has been suffering. If it continues unabated, its consequences may extend beyond the region. As a result, the Sahel will face an uphill battle in the future to achieve stability, development, and improved living conditions for its people.

Addressing the Sahel crisis requires collective efforts and cooperation from all parties involved that can bring positive change in the region. When different stakeholders come together, they can pool their resources, ideas, and expertise to tackle the issues the region faces. This collaboration will ensure that the needs and priorities of the Sahel are properly addressed and that solutions are tailored to the region’s specific context. Also, fostering dialogue and understanding between different communities within the Sahel can help build trust, reduce tensions, and promote a more cohesive and inclusive society. Ultimately, through collective efforts, Sahel can achieve positive and sustainable change for the betterment of its people and the region as a whole.

Shahzadi Irrum
Shahzadi Irrum
Ms. Shahzadi Irrum Assistant Research Fellow (Balochistan Think Tank Network, Quetta)