World News

U.N. raises $1.7 billion for hungry, displaced millions in Sahel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The United Nations raised more than $1.7 billion in pledges on Tuesday to fund aid efforts in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger for the rest of 2020 and 2021 as U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock warned a “preventable tragedy is looming” in the central Sahel region.

Lowcock told a virtual pledging conference that some 13 million people, including 5 million children, need emergency humanitarian assistance to survive. He said more than 7 million people had been pushed into acute hunger.

“Humanitarian needs in the central Sahel are higher than they have ever been, and the rate at which needs have increased is truly alarming,” he told the conference, organized by the United Nations, the European Union, Germany and Denmark.

The pledges from 22 countries, the EU and the Education Cannot Wait fund fell short of the $2.4 billion the United Nations said it needed.

“The central Sahel region is at a breaking point,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. “The Sahel is a microcosm of cascading global risks converging in one region.”

Lowcock cited chronic poverty and underdevelopment, demographic growth and climate change, intercommunal conflict, violent criminal gangs and extremists as some of the causes of the humanitarian crisis.

France, a former colonial power in the region, is leading a coalition of West African and European allies to fight Islamist militants in the Sahel. It has deployed thousands of troops in the region south of the Sahara desert since 2013, but militant violence has been on the rise.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Jonathan Oatis