Monday, January 18, 2021

Explainer: What is the Sahel and why is it so important?

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Sahel

Africa’s semi-arid Sahel region is a melting pot of climate change, population movements, and jihadist attacks.

Here’s a brief explanation about the region ahead of the key elections in Niger on Sunday:

– What is it? –
In purely geographical terms, the Sahel, or Sahil in Arabic, which means coast or coast, is a vast region that stretches along the southern edge of the Sahara Desert from the Atlantic to the Red Sea.

Nestled between the desert to the north and tropical forests and savannah to the south, the belt has a semi-arid tropical climate.

– Where is? –
There are many different political definitions of which countries actually belong to the Sahel.

A core group, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, are meeting in an anti-jihadist alliance called the G5 Sahel.

Other definitions of the region include parts of Senegal, Nigeria, Sudan, South Sudan, and Eritrea.

– Jihadist hunting ground –
With vast expanses of inhospitable desert and porous borders, the central Sahel has become a hunting ground for armed groups, rebels, jihadists and criminal gangs.

Jihadist violence erupted after a rebellion in northern Mali in 2012. The conflict spread to the center of the country and then to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger, claiming thousands of lives and displacing hundreds of thousands of people.

Several anti-jihadist military operations have been launched in the area, including the French operation Barkhane and the G5 Sahel force, which brings together the armies of the five countries.

The area has been the scene of some high-profile kidnappings. At least six Western hostages are reportedly still in detention.

– Climate change –
As the world struggles with climate change, the effect of global warming is around 50% greater in the Sahel. In the last quarter of the 20th century, the region suffered the worst droughts of any part of the planet.

This has contributed to a staggering 90 percent decrease in the area of ​​Lake Chad in the past six decades and a race has been launched to stop the main source of fresh water for 40 million people in four countries.

In February, 17 countries established a plan to invest $ 400 billion in combating climate change in the Sahel by 2030.

– Population pressure –
The region, which is generally very poor, has one of the highest population growth rates in the world.

The population of the G5 Sahel region is expected to double to around 170 million by 2050, according to the United Nations.

Amid unrest, poverty and climate change, the UN said internal displacement had increased 20-fold in less than two years and the number of hungry families had tripled.

The United Nations warned in November of an increased risk of famine in Burkina Faso, along with northeastern Nigeria and South Sudan, and also a high risk of hunger in both Mali and Niger.

The problems have been compounded by the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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