Analysis by Erol Avdovic
Analysis by Erol Avdovic
NEW YORK —UN and WB have stated an ambitious agenda to strengthen social safety nets for people in Sahel region, lower the cost of energy and increase support for irrigation and pastoralism, as well transform the state of agriculture starting with Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger
Underdevelopment, political and social insecurity with humanitarian crises in the Sahel region will be under the spotlight this week again as the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank (WB) President Jim Yong Kim travel to the five core countries of West Africa: Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
UN’s Ban and WB’s Kim teamed up again for a new trip to Africa’s to try to draw attention to the most impoverished region including strong social pressures that the climate change is causing there.
– The new approach for most fragile place on Earth
The Sahel spans stretch for about 5,400 km from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to Red Sea in the east. The territorial belt varies from several hundred to a thousand kilometers in width, covering an area of 3,053,200 square kilometers. UN said the Sahel is one of the most impoverished and fragile places on the planet. Countless victims, whether due to hunger or people fighting each other over the decades out of poverty, food insecurity or over the other issues has become a common and recognizable image of West Africa.
The proclaimed goal of this joint mission trip, as World Bank chief said at the joint press conference last week is “to address the root causes of poverty, conflict and helplessness.”
Mr. Kim said this would be a “new approach” in which the World Bank will mobilize substantial public and private sources in support.
“We’ll help strengthen social safety nets for people, lower the cost of energy and increase support for irrigation, as well as transform the state of agriculture in the region,” Mr. Kim said. Though, he did not talk how much money will be needed for that rather ambitious agenda.
Beside its colonial past, Sahel has mainly Muslim population that also speaks French.
– Grandiose drought and geopolitics
For hundreds of years this region has experienced regular droughts and mega-droughts. From 1914, and then from 1951 to 2004, the Sahel experienced some of the most consistent and severe droughts in Africa – that caused a famine and large-scale suffering.
But, UN is now convinced the cycle of crises in the Sahel can be broken. “The region can move from fragility to sustainability,” Ban Ki-moon said just days before undertaking this new African trip.
Talking about Sahel region Romano Prodi UN Secretary General’s special envoy to the region said recently that Sahel is a “geographically enormous and the poorest of Africa” with different countries with most porous borders.
He reminded that the borders are “out in the desert,” saying “It is time to make a plan of cooperation of all the five entirely Sahel countries.” Otherwise, Prodi warned those countries “will never have the economical scale (and) the connection or the strength to develop.”
Prodi also pointed that the media focus should not be only on Mali and the war there, since the refugees of conflicts are everywhere: “The fear is everywhere and the movement of terrorists are everywhere, so we better understand that this is not just Mali, this effects the wider area,” Prodi said.
Sahel is also known as a important geopolitical entity. While becoming independent states, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Chad, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal in 1973 formed the Permanent Interstates Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS).
CILSS countries alone are now home to more than 60 million people. But the population is growing very quickly in the Sahel. CILSS estimates there will be 100 million people in the region by 2020 and 200 million by 2050.
– Climate changes issues
When it comes to climate changes and global warming issues scientists have differing opinions on whether the Sahel is going to get wetter or drier because of those weather phenomena, but either way doesn’t look very bright.
West African Sahel and Central Africa may experience some of the highest temperature increases anywhere in the world over the next few decades – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of over 2,000 climate scientists all over the world, concluded in 2008. This is the estimate that still holds.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) also reported over 80 percent of the land in the Sahel is degraded. It is caused by overgrazing, continuous cropping, desertification, use and preservation of existing water resources and deforestation.
Many studies cited by UNEP said – changing rainfall patterns and degraded land, may cause Chad and Niger to potentially lose their entire rain-fed agriculture by 2100, while in Mali cereal harvests might decline by 30 percent.
Annual rainfall is often now coming in short, as happened throughout the Sahel in 2007, and particularly in Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Chad — destroyed crops and seeds, and even washed away whole villages at the time.
The majority of people in Sahel region are farmers, sharing similar customs and cultures even while their religions and languages vary. Crops such as millet, sorghum and cowpea, groundnut and cotton are the predominant agricultural produce of this region.
– Lagging behind all the other
According to UN – today more than 11 million people are at risk of hunger and 5 million children under five are at risk of acute malnutrition. Political instability had significant impact with economic and social consequences. Terrorism and organized crime are also the major threats for Sahel region’s stability for a long period of time.
“These challenges cannot be overcome by any government or organization alone,” Mr. Ban said before leaving New York.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether the well-designed package of “different approach,” as it was announced by the President of the World Bank Dr. Kim – will find a proper reception with quite disparate African leaders.
To have a vision of prosperity is not enough without the generous funds for it’s financing. This was a main conclusion at the last week panel at the UN Headquarters dedicated to help Africa out of extreme poverty by the year 2030.
– UN has to act now
“We are going together to listen and act,” UN chief said last week announcing his trip with the WB head. Earlier this year, Mr. Ban and Mr. Kim travelled together to Africa’s Great Lakes region in support of a new peace. UN said the new voyage to West Africa seeks to build on joint efforts and foster international support.
Turkey can help get Africa out of that endemic poverty as well. Dr. Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, CEO of New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), and former Prime Minister of Niger, told Anadolu Agency – “Turkey is becoming a key factor in African development, with many cooperation links being developed, not only on the bilateral level, but also at the continental level and regional level.”
Traveling this time to Africa together with Mr. Ban and Mr. Kim also are the UN Secretary General’s special envoy to the region, Romano Prodi, the chairperson of the African Union Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, President of the African Development Bank Donald Kaberuka, and Commissioner for Development of the European Union Andris Piebalgs.