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Overcoming the crisis in the Sahel

UNFPA Report

Overcoming the crisis in the Sahel

The Sahel is plagued by multifaceted crises that have plunged its people into situations of distress. To refine the analyses carried out so far on these areas, we, at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), commissioned a team of researchers and experts to conduct empirical work focusing on three countries of the Central Sahel.

A pessimistic outcome is not inevitable in the Sahel. It is always possible to overcome even the most complex crises and situations.

Since 2012, the Sahel has been plagued by multifaceted crises that have plunged its people into situations of distress. In the face of this emergency, states and civil society organisations are in a race against time. To change the situation and give the region lasting momentum, studies and research papers recommend that decision makers act on the structural factors that sustain fragility in the Sahel. These include the central mechanisms linking demography, security and peace.

To refine the analyses carried out so far on these areas, we, at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), commissioned a team of researchers and experts to conduct empirical work focusing on three countries of the Central Sahel (Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger).

On the ground, UNFPA is working tirelessly to promote reproductive health and human rights, especially women’s rights. Our aim is to help those countries in the Sahel to capture the ‘demographic dividend’, or in other words to put its impressive youth at the spearhead of its progress. The research we commissioned present new problems, and more importantly, solutions.

The three studies summarised in this report mark a break from previous research, in that they respond specifically to the Sahel. To measure the region’s fragility we need to look at the reality behind the numbers. The dependency ratio in the Sahel – the proportion of the population that depends on others to live – is around 85.2 per cent, with huge disparities. It is 97 per cent in Chad and Mali, and 121.2 per cent in Niger.

This deep-dive provides  unique insights and it allows decision-makers to implement tailored solutions.

The scale of the challenge shows that young people, as in the rest of the continent, aspire to a future anchored in good education and employment.

The countries we looked at face the dual challenge of providing for this young and growing population, whilst being under pressure from destabilising forces from jihadist groups. As a result, states spend between 12 and 25 per cent of their budgets on defence and security, diverting significant resources from priority social sectors such as health. 

The region’s leaders have a critical role to play in this process of building stability and, ultimately, resilience. We now have a greater understanding of the issues at stake and are better positioned to action the experts’ recommendations.

Mabingue Ngom is Regional Director, UNFPA, for West and Central Africa.

Read more from our special report on peace and security in the Sahel, created in association with UNFPA.

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Written by Mabingue Ngom

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