UNITED NATIONS — More than 20 donors pledged nearly $1 billion for the three countries at the epicenter of a humanitarian crisis in Africa's Sahel region for this year and over $700 million for 2021 and beyond, the United Nations announced Tuesday.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the funds will help some 10 million people in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger for the remainder of this year and through next year with nutrition, food, health services, water and sanitation, shelter, education, protection and support to survivors of gender-based violence.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the high-level virtual donors meeting co-sponsored by the U.N., Denmark, Germany and the European Union that "the central Sahel region is at a breaking point" and humanitarian needs in the border region of the three countries "have reached record levels."
"The security situation has deteriorated sharply, harshly affecting people's daily lives," he said. "Violence is rising, and women and girls are especially vulnerable. Internal displacement has increased twenty-fold in less than two years. Climate change is threatening people's livelihoods. And COVID-19 is making all of it worse."
The U.N. chief said this downward spiral "is a microcosm of cascading global risks converging in one region," and needs to be reversed with a renewed push for peace and reconciliation.
U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock reiterated that "nowhere in the world worries me as much as the Sahel in the medium-term." And he again expressed fear that the region "is very close to a tipping point, with ripple effects that could reach neighboring countries and further afield."
Lowcock said more than 13 million people in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger need emergency assistance to survive, including 5 million children.
Before the meeting, he told The Associated Press that the troubling situation in the three countries is a symptom of failure to deal with a broad range of political, security and development challenges, as well as rapid population growth and climate change.
Lowcock told Tuesday's high-level meeting that these root causes "are not being properly addressed," saying the international community has focused mainly on short-term humanitarian aid and security interventions "but much more is needed."
He called on the international community and the Sahel governments to make far bigger investments in basic services, especially education, health, clean water, sanitation and family planning, and in adapting to the pressures of climate change and population growth. This requires improved agricultural productivity, urban planning and economic development, he said.
Both Guterres and Lowcock appealed for $2.4 billion to cover the remaining months of 2020 and 2021.
U.N. spokesman Dujarric said donors pledged $985 million for this year and $704 million for 2021 and beyond.
According to the U.N., Switzerland made the largest pledge, $464.1 million. The United States was next pledging $274.8 million followed by Denmark with $183.1 million, the European Union with $122.8 million and Germany with $118.2 million.
Rasmus Prehn, Danish minister for development cooperation, said: "Right now, more and more people in Central Sahel are caught in a vicious cycle of insecurity, displacement and lack of food."
"We must act and extend our solidarity to all those suffering, in particular women and children," he said. "More funding for sustained humanitarian support is essential. At the same time, we must focus much more on long-term solutions to the challenges that drive the crisis."