12 December 2013 – Terrorism, trafficking in arms, drugs and people, and other transnational forms of organized crime are threatening security in Africa’s vast sub-Saharan Sahel region, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned today.
“The Sahel’s vast size and long, porous borders mean that such challenges can be addressed successfully only if the countries of the region work together,” he told the Security Council at the start of a meeting on the situation in the region. The meeting was also addressed by World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, and Romano Prodi, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Sahel.
“The United Nations will continue its efforts to promote security, good governance and resilience,” he said, calling also for more to be done to address food crises that plague the Sahel as well as to improve conditions in migrants’ communities of origin while generating more legal opportunities for migrants to work abroad.
Mr. Ban recalled his visit with Mr. Kim last month to four Sahel countries - Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad – citing a ‘very moving” visit he made to Timbuktu in northern Mali, a region seized by radical Islamists in 2012 before they were driven out by French-led forces.
“People there are struggling to recover from human rights abuses and upheaval,” he said. “I was given an opportunity to view the cultural treasures that had been damaged in attacks. This was a terrible loss for Mali – and for our common global heritage - but with UNESCO’s (UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) help, we are moving to safeguard it.”
But he added that, despite progress made towards re-establishing constitutional order in Mali, which over the past two years has witnessed a military coup d’état, fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels, and the seizure the north by the Islamists, he remains concerned with the security situation.
He called for continued strengthening of The UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), a 12,600-strong force set up by the Council in April and authorized “to use all necessary means” to carry out security-related stabilization tasks, protect civilians, UN staff and cultural artefacts, and create the conditions for provision of humanitarian aid.
The Sahel stretches from Mauritania in the west to Eritrea in the east, a vast belt dividing the Sahara desert and the savannahs to the south, which has undergone three major droughts in less than a decade and where more than 11 million people are at risk of hunger and 5 million children under five are at risk of acute malnutrition.