Photo by Lisa Krebs - Caritas Switzerland

Caritas Calls for Action in Africa’s Central Sahel Crisis

Need to Address Root Causes and Empower Local Leaders

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Caritas Internationalis has urged governments, local leaders, and donors to act in Africa’s central Sahel, which is facing one of the world’s fastest-growing humanitarian crises.

Contributing to a high-level ministerial virtual round table co-hosted by Denmark, Germany, the United Nations, and the European Union on October 20th, Caritas recommended that policy-makers address the root causes of the crisis and find political solutions to the factors undermining social cohesion – such as inequality, weak governance, arms sales, intra-community violence, and terrorist attacks.

Inter and intra-community violence is increasing, and human rights violations perpetrated by various actors against civilians are multiplying, leading to forced displacement. As a result, more than 13 million people require urgent humanitarian assistance in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger – 5 million more at the beginning of 2020.

The confederation has urged five lines of action. First of all, promoting multi-dimensional and longer-term approaches to development, humanitarian, and peace efforts to address the root causes of the crisis in the Central Sahel region. “It is not enough to treat the symptoms of the crisis,” Caritas stated, stressing that “the crisis in Central Sahel is rooted in issues of governance, the unequal distribution of wealth, lack of equitable access to resources, education and life opportunities by the poor, which in turn pushes many young people to join armed groups to escape poverty and injustice.” The 162-member global confederation also highlights that the enormous complexity of the protracted crisis in the Sahel has been further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Secondly, Caritas urged to promote the role of national and local civil society organizations, and community-based approaches, to addressing protection, social cohesion, conflict prevention, and peacebuilding. The confederation, therefore, sees local leaders, including religious ones, as well as women and youth, as a key part of the solution to preventing violence and building more cohesive communities and encourages a greater focus on enabling local communities to find their own solutions. It suggests that donors should invest in interreligious programs between Christians and Muslims and others to help promote unity in local communities.

Thirdly, Caritas says particular attention should be paid to vulnerable refugees, internally displaced persons, and asylum seekers support. This means strengthening protection against human trafficking, maintaining family unity during displacement and supporting family reunification, registering stateless people, and promoting the integration of IDPs in host communities, as well as training refugees as community leaders.

Fourthly, the complexity of the situation requires greater coordination between humanitarian, development, and peace actors and between national and local NGOs – particularly local civil society and faith-based organizations, that should be involved in contributing to early warning systems, needs assessments, and the monitoring and evaluation of emergency, peacebuilding and development programs.

As a final point, Caritas suggests policymakers strengthen inter-regional cooperation which promotes a people-centered approach to peace and sustainable development, human security, and the eradication of extreme poverty in line with Agenda 2063 proposed by the African Union.

Following the virtual ministerial conference, donor countries announced more than US$1.7 billion to scale up essential lifesaving humanitarian assistance and protection to millions of people in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger and avoid a further exacerbation of the humanitarian crises.

“Intensifying aid is crucial, but without seriously addressing those root causes, humanitarian needs will increase and people in the Central Sahel will continue to pay the highest price of the crisis,” said Albert Mashika, Caritas Africa’s Regional Coordinator.

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