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The Sahel - Worsening violence and insecurity impacting 15 million people
by OCHA, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), agencies
The Sahel - Worsening Violence and Insecurity: A Call to Action from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Escalating armed violence is causing an unprecedented humanitarian emergency in the Sahel. The impact on affected children, women and men is dramatic. Needs are rising fast as conflict and insecurity devastate hundreds of thousands more lives.
Over the past six months, armed groups have intensified attacks in Burkina Faso and parts of Mali and Niger. Regions around the three countries’ borders are new hotspots of violence. In the first five months of 2019, more than 1,200 civilians were directly targeted and killed. Exacerbated by conflict, tensions in communities with deep-rooted grievances are growing.
Operating in sparsely populated, impoverished regions with little Government presence, armed groups are roving across borders and expanding areas of influence. Neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, Ghana and Togo are at risk. Attacks have already spilled over into Benin.
In the Lake Chad Basin, the conflict continues unabated into its tenth year. More than 27,000 people have been killed. Millions of civilians are grappling with extreme hardship and deprivation.
Many have suffered violence and abuse and are deeply traumatised. Armed groups have recently intensified attacks against civilians, with a marked increase in murders, kidnappings and lootings, leading to renewed population displacements.
Conflict and its devastating humanitarian impact have plagued the Sahel for many years. The current levels, however, are unprecedented. Insecurity has never spread so fast. Women and children are bearing the brunt of the violence.
Renewed, increased and concerted efforts are needed to curb the ongoing violence from spreading further in the Sahel, and beyond. http://bit.ly/2JnTnFM
Violence in central Mali has reached unprecedented levels, with alarming consequences for civilians, writes Patrick Irenge who has been MSF’s medical coordinator in Bamako, Mali, since September 2017.
While this West African country has been facing a political and security crisis since 2012, violence has intensified in the central region and is seriously affecting the civilian population.
Patrick describes how this insecurity has created an unprecedented emergency and reviews MSF''s response, assisting the most vulnerable alongside our regular projects.
The crisis in northern Mali has been ongoing since 2012. It is not getting any better, having intensified in the centre of the country. What is the situation like now?
In Mali, a climate of violence has been established in the daily lives of people in the centre and north of the country.
In the centre, security incidents and intercommunity conflicts have been on the rise for over a year; the massacres in the village of Ogossagou (March 2019) and more recently the village of Sobane (June 2019), together killing 160 and 35 people, including 24 children (data from June 17) are the tragic proof of this.
The heavy toll of these attacks has generated international media coverage and prompted widespread indignation but, unfortunately, while the astonishing violence of these deadly events is unusual, they are just the latest two examples among a multitude of others. Currently, the region of Mopti suffers security incidents on an almost daily basis.
The most alarming thing is that these incidents are increasingly affecting the civilian population, creating a climate of insecurity, fear and mistrust with even more disastrous consequences.
What is the impact of this violence on the humanitarian situation? What are the greatest needs of the people living in the worst hit areas?
First, we must remember that in central and northern Mali, a large majority of the rural population lives very modestly, surviving on agriculture and livestock. They already face hardship associated with the rainy season and lean months.
Now, added to these seasonal difficulties is the population''s lack of mobility, with some communities now completely unable to move. This immobility is caused by people''s fear of taking a road that may have been mined, and the presence of armed actors in the region or by the fear of crossing the hamlet of another ethnic group.
As a result, entire villages are literally hemmed in; their inhabitants can no longer carry out their usual economic activities and no longer have access to primary healthcare. Our teams in Douentza, and in daily contact with the community, also bear witnesses to this immense struggle to access care.
Another problem is the increasing number of displaced people who have fled violence. These families have often left everything behind (belongings, livestock, etc.) and live in makeshift shelters or host communities, left to cope on their own with no hope of returning to their homes.
Generally speaking, the needs of the affected and displaced populations are numerous: food, healthcare, basic items, shelter, protection and access to water. And, unfortunately, humanitarian aid is insufficient because providing regular aid is very difficult or almost impossible in the most remote areas.
On the health front, what are the most glaring signs of the deteriorating humanitarian situation?
There are several alarming signs. An obvious indicator is the late arrival of large numbers of patients at health structures. Far too many are waiting to be seriously ill before deciding to seek medical assistance.
We are also seeing an increase in cases of malnutrition that are directly linked to the decline in economic activities which allow families to meet their basic needs.
Many pregnant women can no longer attend health centres for antenatal care and are often forced to give birth at home, increasing the risk of complications and deaths at the community level.
Children also suffer serious consequences as they no longer have access to routine vaccinations or other preventive treatments such as seasonal malaria prophylaxis. As such, they are dangerously exposed to several life-threatening diseases. In some remote villages our teams have treated children who had never even been vaccinated, which would suggest that some people have not had access to medical care for years.
There is also a sharp increase in psychological disorders among people who have suffered and fled violence or who fear impromptu attacks.
How is MSF responding to this situation?
In parallel with the medical structures we support, MSF has intensified its emergency response activities since May 2018.
We monitor how people''s needs are evolving across the country everyday thanks to the presence of our teams in the field (an alert management system); we also launch exploratory and evaluation missions on the spot to quickly identify large population movements and other serious situations.
Our teams do this through mobile clinics which generally provide curative, preventive and psychological care and, where required, distribute essential relief items. These targeted interventions enable us to come to the aid of the most vulnerable and to temporarily protect their health despite insecurity.
This is a strategy that we also use in our regular projects. We call them "one-shot" clinics: as soon as a safety window, such as a temporary lull in violence a specific area opens up, we deploy a team that can provide the maximum level of care on the spot, including crucial preventive treatments and vaccinations. Sometimes there are more than 180 consultations in one day.
You mention the "one-shot" mobile clinics. Has MSF adopted other strategies to address the problem of access to populations?
Our identity – as a neutral, impartial and independent organisation – and our acceptance have allowed us and continue to allow us to reach particularly difficult areas. But since insecurity is an unstable and highly unpredictable variable, MSF has indeed been pushed to adapt operations to the conflict situation in central and northern Mali.
One strategy has been to involve the community more in the management of certain diseases through the training of community health workers and the provision of medicines. For simple pathologies, such as malaria or diarrhoea, patients are now cared for within their communities rather than in a health centre.
These community health workers are also trained to monitor pregnancies and to detect signs of malnutrition and other serious illnesses in order to refer cases on time.
This method of decentralisation has also been applied in nomadic communities who, because of their lifestyle, have limited access to health facilities. So when this population moves to track the livestock feed requirements, community health workers from the community follow suit and continue to provide health care.
Another important aspect, on which we focus our efforts, is vaccination because in a situation of conflict it really helps to strongly reduce mortality in children.
What are MSF''s biggest concerns for the coming months?
At the moment, we are worried that the insecurity will continue to intensify, inevitably depriving more and more people of access to healthcare and essential items.
Besides, as mentioned previously, Mali faces a number of challenges on a cyclical basis. For example, the rainy season that has just begun will bring its fair share of problems, such as peak malaria season, flooding, deteriorating road conditions and thus the accessibility of communities.
There is also a risk of lack of food because insecurity has significantly restricted farming activities. The difficulties that the Malian population will face in the coming months are more serious than in previous years.
* For several months, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been intensifying its medical activities in Mali. Despite the difficulties related to the security context, MSF has launched emergency interventions mainly in the central region to meet the important needs of the population. Unfortunately, this increase is also the sad indicator of an alarming humanitarian situation that is deteriorating day by day.
Cycle of violence against civilians must stop, says UN expert
Alioune Tine, the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Mali, says continuing deadly attacks on civilians in certain areas of the country could be described as crimes against humanity and urged stronger protection of people and property.
Tine made the remarks following the weekend attack on the Dogon village of Sobanou-Kou in central Mali’s Mopti region. He said he had received reports of many people killed and injured, as well as dozens abducted, with high numbers of women and children among the victims. Investigations by the authorities are continuing and further details, including exact casualty figures, will be available soon, Tine said.
The expert said the Sobanou-Kou attack on 9 June which continued overnight is part of an intensification of the deadly cycle of violence in central Mali, and these attacks are regularly carried out against civilian populations.
"Impunity for these crimes gives the perpetrators a sense of immunity – and these human rights abuses, documented almost every week for more than a year, could be characterised as crimes against humanity."
He said he welcomed the government’s quick response to the attacks on civilians in the Mopti region, including incidents on 1 January and 23 March in Fulani villages, as well as others in the area.
"However, I urge the Malian authorities to take more preventive measures to protect civilians, including the establishment of a stronger security presence in the centre of the country, the disarmament and the immediate dissolution of all armed militias, and conduct of effective judicial investigations to bring perpetrators to justice," Tine said.
"I would like to stress the absolute necessity, with the support of all concerned partners, to further strengthen the security of people and property in these areas exposed to this spiral of violence."
He said a comprehensive and coordinated approach is needed to prevent further violence and to tackle the problem in a sustainable way. "I appeal to civil society, traditional and religious leaders, and also to the international community and the regional authorities, to discharge their respective responsibilities." http://bit.ly/2J2ENSF
North-east Nigeria: Crisis shows no sign of abating. (OCHA)
Now in its tenth year, the conflict continues to uproot the lives of tens of thousands of civilians. In recent months, a new spike in violence and military counter-operations have affected civilians in the BAY states, particularly in Borno State. Since January, some 134,000 people have been forced from their homes.
“Aid agencies have significantly scaled up and reached some two million people with aid this year,” explained the Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Mr. Edward Kallon.
“However, much more support is urgently needed. We are worried about the tens of thousands of people who have recently fled rising violence and are still sleeping outside in the open. With the rainy season progressing, they will face increased risk of diseases and need immediate protection.”
The numbers of this crisis are worrying: In Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, 7.1 million people - 53 per cent of the population - require urgent humanitarian assistance. 2.9 million food insecure people at emergency level. 368,000 children are severely malnurished.
“The crisis in the Lake Chad Region is far from over", said Mr. Vincent Houver from the International Organization of Migration, one of the mission members.
“The humanitarian community cannot spare any effort at this time. This week we have met with women, children, and men who have been forced to flee multiple times and urgently need protection and assistance to survive and rebuild their lives. We cannot let them down.”
During a recent visit, emergency directors from UN aid agencies and NGOs, representing the Interagency Standing Committee (IASC), witnessed first-hand the extent of the needs in Nigeria’s north-east, as violence continues unabated and the 2019 humanitarian response plan remains over 67 per cent unfunded.
“Some of the people we met have been living in camps for internally displaced persons for several years.” explained Mr. Christian Gad, Head of Emergencies for the Danish Refugee Council.
“All actors, including the Government and the private sector in Nigeria, need to join forces to help those affected by the crisis recover, in dignity, and restart their lives.”
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UN honours peacekeepers who ‘paid the ultimate price’, for the sake of others
by United Nations News
24 May 2019
Ever since the UN deployed the first of its 72 peacekeeping missions back in 1948, more than 3,800 peacekeepers have lost their lives, Secretary-General António Guterres said on Friday, at a wreath laying ceremony in honour of those “brave men and women” who serve.
Speaking of “the true cost of peacekeeping”, the UN chief called for a moment of silence for those who “paid the ultimate price” to protect others and “to give war-torn countries a chance for peace and hope”.
“Today, in 14 missions around the world, our peacekeepers serve heroically to preserve peace and stability”, he said, adding that they also “face grave threats”.
He noted that UN missions in Mali, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Lebanon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo “are among the most dangerous that we have ever undertaken”, saying that “last year we lost 98 military, police and civilian peacekeepers from 36 countries”.
“We ask much of our peacekeepers”, Mr. Guterres said. “In return, we must continue to do all we can to ensure they are as safe as possible”.
“Today, we honour the memory” of the peacekeepers who did not return home, and “recommit ourselves to carrying forward their mission for a better future”.
Following the wreath laying, the UN chief honoured 119 brave men and women with the Dag Hammarskjold medal.
“Fifty-eight years ago, Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld died in a plane crash in the Congo while trying to broker a peace agreement to end the conflict in the country”, said Mr. Guterres, calling the former UN chief “a tireless and fearless champion of peace” who took “robust action when needed”.
Today’s honourees were military and police personnel, international civil servants, national staff and UN Volunteers from 38 countries who served in 12 different UN peace operations around the world.
“Hailing from different backgrounds, our fallen heroes were united in their efforts to help the UN attain its most important objective – to save further generations from the scourge of war”, said Mr. Guterres. “The medal we posthumously honour them with, bears the name of Secretary-General Hammarskjöld”.
It is also inscribed with the fallen hero’s name, “forever linking them in our hearts and in our memories”, said the UN chief.
Mr. Guterres quoted Secretary-General Hammarskjöld in saying: “The pursuit of peace and progress, with its trials and its errors, its successes and its setbacks, can never be relaxed and never abandoned.”
“Today, as we honour our fallen colleagues with the Dag Hammarskjöld medal, let us also honour them by living up to his call to never abandon the pursuit of peace”, he stressed.
“I offer my highest tribute to those we remember here today, and my sincerest condolences to their loved ones left behind”, he concluded, asking for a moment of silence.
In a special event as part of the commemorations, the UN chief paid tribute to the late Private Chancy Chitete of Malawi, who was hit by enemy fire while protecting and administering lifesaving first aid to his wounded Tanzanian comrade, Corporal Omary.
Private Chitete became only the second winner of the UN’s highest peacekeeping award, the “Captain Mbaye Diagne Medal for Exceptional Courage” which was established in 2014 for uniformed and civilian personnel who meet the criteria, and named after the late UN peacekeeper Captain Diagne - the first posthumous recipient of the award - who saved hundreds of lives in Rwanda in 1994, before being killed.
“The world does not have many true heroes”, said the UN chief, but Private Chitete, who was serving with the UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), was “indeed one of them”.
In November last year, while conducting an operation to stop armed attacks which were disrupting the Ebola response in local towns, peacekeepers came under heavy fire. As bullets were flying, Private Chitete dragged Corporal Omary back to an area “of greater safety”, Mr. Guterres recounted. “Both were evacuated for medical treatment. Corporal Omary survived. Private Chitete did not”.
“Private Chitete’s selfless heroism and sacrifice helped the peacekeepers achieve their objective and dislodge the militia from its stronghold and that was vital for the Ebola response to go on”, he commended. “He personally made a difference. A profound one”.
The ceremony marked the first time the award has been conferred since its initial presentation to the family of Captain Diagne in 2016, said the Secretary-General, adding: “We could not have found a more deserving recipient”.
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