U.N. seeks $2 billion aid for Sahel as conflict worsens

Thu Feb 12, 2015 4:43pm EST
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By Kieran Guilbert

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The United Nations appealed on Thursday for $2 billion to help more than 20 million people across Africa's Sahel belt, where increasingly erratic weather and escalating violence have worsened widespread hunger and malnutrition.

Conflict, mainly in Nigeria and the Central African Republic, has uprooted 1.2 million people in the past year, taking the total number of people displaced to 2.8 million, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

Those driven from their homes are seeking refuge in neighbouring countries including Chad, Niger and Cameroon, placing further strain on local communities which are already struggling to feed themselves, the United Nations said.

"The violence and conflict has a devastating effect... it is casting a shadow across the region," said Robert Piper, U.N. regional humanitarian coordinator for the Sahel, a semi-arid belt south of the Sahara Desert that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean eastward to the Red Sea.

Islamist militants Boko Haram have killed thousands of people and seized territory in northeastern Nigeria in a five-year insurgency, while the Central African Republic is plagued by civil war between Christian militia and mostly Muslim Seleka rebels who seized power in March 2013.

"With the chronic food insecurity and uncertain climate, the Sahel is continuing to look very fragile," Piper told the Thomson Reuters Foundation before the launch of the appeal in New York.

Climate change is the driving factor behind the growing number of vulnerable people across the region, he said, as increasingly unpredictable rainfall patterns wreak havoc on farmers and disrupt local food production.