Accelerated Regional Action, Intensified International Support Critical to Resolving Sahel Challenges, Key Officials Tell Security Council
Briefer Tells of Species Lost To Desertification, Youths Lured by Militants
Stretched thin between the interlinked challenges of desertification, poverty and rising violent extremism, resolving challenges facing the Sahel region of Africa would require accelerated regional action and urgent international support, the Security Council heard during a series of briefings today.
“West Africa and the Sahel countries are at a crossroads,” Mohammed Ibn Chambas, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA), told the 15-member Council. They were on the front line of humanity’s struggle against climate change and also faced challenges related to organized crime, trafficking and violent extremism. While those challenges were primarily the responsibility of Governments in the region, their budgets were already stretched, and they needed international support, he said. Indeed, dealing with desertification, insecurity in Libya as well as jihadists returning from the Middle East was beyond the scope of any single Government alone.
Jean-Paul Laborde, Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED), described climate change as an “aggravator” of conflict and violent extremism, adding that other contributing factors included poor governance, economic instability and unemployment. The recent terrorist attacks in West Africa — well below the Sahel zone — demonstrated the flexibility and inventiveness of terrorists operating in the region, he said, calling for an equally flexible and innovative United Nations response. Citing the alarming pace of weapons proliferation across the region, he stressed that terrorism in the Sahel was a complex and constantly evolving threat.
Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, said the opportunity for coherent action in the Sahel appeared to be closing quickly, as immense challenges pressed in and the region’s population grew at annual rates of up to 4 per cent. For the bulk of the people, life was already tough and would get tougher, creating a breeding ground for disillusionment, crime, radicalization and conflict. With up to 80 per cent of them eking out a living from the land, climate change and the accompanying land degradation would further destabilize the situation, she said, warning that tensions over land and water shortages could spiral out of control as they had done in Darfur.
Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, Coordinator of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad, said climate change and desertification had become part of the daily lives of the Sahel’s peoples and a major cause of instability and insecurity. Conflicts over water, land and migration routes would increase, as would the recruitment of terrorist groups such as Boko Haram, she predicted, noting that the militants offered cash in the neighbourhood of $500 to young people who would otherwise have a hard time earning $50 a year. Underscoring the need for the Council to play a preventive role, she called for accelerated implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change, with an emphasis on contributions from countries bearing the greatest responsibility for pollution.
As the members of the Council took the floor, a number of speakers underlined the need to support the “Group of Five for the Sahel” — formed in 2014 by Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger — as well as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and other regional entities on the ground. Meanwhile, other speakers objected to the Council’s consideration of the issue, noting that it was not the appropriate venue for a discussion on climate change or development.
In that regard, the Russian Federation’s representative said that, although desertification added to the Sahel’s problems, it did not in itself pose a threat to international peace and security, and should be considered in other United Nations forums.
Venezuela’s representative pointed out that many of the difficult political circumstances and instability in the Sahel had been unleashed by the 2011 intervention in Libya. Africa had historically been a victim of the ambitions of more powerful States, he said, emphasizing the need to respect the sovereignty of the region’s countries on the path to peace.
Also speaking were representatives of Senegal, Spain, China, United Kingdom, Uruguay, United States, Japan, France, Ukraine, New Zealand, Angola, Malaysia and Egypt. The Council also heard from the African Union High Representative for Mali and the Sahel, and the European Union’s Special Representative for the Sahel.
The meeting began at 3:07 p.m. and ended at 6:24 p.m.
MOHAMMED IBN CHAMBAS, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA), said he had just met President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger as part of a tour of Sahelian countries on the front line of humanity’s struggle against climate change. That fundamental threat directly affected the region’s security, development and stability, he said, citing also the renewed insurgency in the Niger delta, terrorist activities in northern Mali, and deadly conflicts over resources. Those threats went hand-in-hand with organized crime, trafficking and violent extremism.
While the fight against terrorism in the region was beginning to yield tangible results, more efforts were needed to support the military campaign against Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin area, he said. Cooperation was also needed to help Sahel countries address the terrorist threats spreading into West Africa. The United Nations was committed to playing its part, within the parameters of its mandate, to help the region address those challenges, in particular by addressing the underlying issues of underdevelopment, poor governance and poverty.
He went on to say that the Boko Haram onslaught had galvanized attention to the effects of climate change, noting that the Lake Chad Basin directly provided livelihoods to about 2 million people, and supplied nearly 13 million with food. The Basin area was also home to up to 50 million people, a population expected to double by 2030. Another regional example of the effects of climate change included the situation of the Niger River, some sections of which had already begun to dry up, he said.
Declaring that “West Africa and the Sahel countries are at a crossroad”, he said that although tackling climate change and insecurity was the primary responsibility of the region’s Governments, their budgets were already stretched, and they needed international support. Indeed, insecurity in Libya, jihadists returning from the Middle East and desertification were beyond the scope of any single Government, he stressed. Humanitarian needs continued to grow in the Sahel, with some 9.2 million people needing assistance, and only a small percentage of the $535 million requested for humanitarian assistance having been met.
JEAN-PAUL LABORDE, Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED), described climate change as an “aggravator” of conflict and violent extremism, adding that other contributing factors included poor governance, economic instability and unemployment. Recalling Council resolution 1373 (2001), he said the 15-member organ had long been aware of the close ties linking transnational organized crime, trafficking and terrorism. Few organized crime cases had been prosecuted in the region, and although criminal groups and terrorists might have different objectives, they shared common ground in their recruitment techniques and other activities, he pointed out.
Porous borders and corruption also worked alongside climate change to exacerbate the region’s challenges, he continued. Indeed, those factors put greater pressure on border controls and the ability to monitor the activities of criminal groups. The recent terrorist attacks in West Africa — well below the Sahel zone — demonstrated the flexibility and inventiveness of the terrorists as well as their ability to adapt. While concerted action by the region’s countries had weakened Boko Haram, it continued to hit the civilian population hard. The situation in Libya was also a major concern, he said, noting that its coastal town of Sirte, in particular, could be used as a platform from which to spread terrorism throughout the region, and to attack Europe. Citing the alarming pace of weapons proliferation across the region, he stressed that terrorism in the Sahel was a complex and constantly evolving threat. The United Nations must respond in a way that was equally flexible and innovative, he said, underlining the critical need to find political solutions to the region’s challenges. “We must diminish the impact on innocent lives” and ensure that perpetrators of terrorism were punished.
MONIQUE BARBUT, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), said the opportunity for coherent action in the Sahel appeared to be closing quickly, as immense challenges pressed in and the population grew at annual rates of up to 4 per cent. For the bulk of the population, life was already tough and would get tougher, creating a breeding ground for disillusionment, crime, radicalization and conflict. With up to 80 per cent of the people eking out a living from the land, climate change and the accompanying land degradation would further destabilize the situation, she said, warning that tensions over land and water shortages could spiral out of control as they had done in Darfur.
She went on to describe her visits to two towns in northern Niger that used to be tourist attractions and trading centres and which were now major transit points for migrant, where smuggling people had become the only viable economic activity. With desperation increasing, it was estimated that close to 60 million people could migrate to North Africa and Europe by 2035 due to the desertification of sub-Saharan Africa, she said, noting that “100 per cent” of illegal migrants moving to Europe had originated in dryland countries, whereas most rural migrants would generally prefer to stay close to home if they were able to survive there.
Interventions to improve the situation in rural areas of the Sahel should prioritize employment and income-generating opportunities, she said, adding that they should include clearly defined land- and water-use and access rules as well as equitable land-tenure systems. There was also a need to rapidly accelerate implementation of the Great Green Wall and Lake Chad initiatives, and to greatly scale up investment in land rehabilitation and sustainable land management. The land-based approach would build resilience to climate change in rural communities, enhance food and water security and help stabilize much of the region. “We are not claiming it is a silver bullet, but it would definitely be cheaper and more effective than investing in walls, wars and relief,” she said.
HINDOU OUMAROU IBRAHIM, Coordinator of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad, said climate change and desertification had become part of the daily lives of the Sahel’s peoples and a major cause of instability and insecurity. She said many animal and plant species had disappeared since her childhood. Lack of water and soil degradation was exacerbating poverty every day, and competition over resources was leading to “survival for the fittest”. As a result, conflicts over water, land and migration routes would increase, as would the recruitment of terrorist groups such as Boko Haram, she predicted, noting that the terrorist group offered cash in the neighbourhood of $500 to young people who would otherwise have a hard time earning $50 a year. Development in the Sahel could not be considered without considering security, she emphasized.
In order to enable the Sahel to meet the threats facing it, the Security Council must play its role in prevention, and all stakeholders must ensure that the consequences of climate change were met, she said. For that purpose, implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change must be accelerated, with an emphasis on contributions from the countries responsible for the pollution. Social and environmental criteria must be taken into account in all actions, as must the needs of the most vulnerable communities through projects that directly engaged them, particularly young people. The Sahel’s people wanted to be able to survive as farmers and herders, not to emigrate, she said, adding that adaptation financing must be stepped up to multiply projects involving access to water and sustainable agriculture. The international community must help or Sahel communities would have no hope for the future.
FODÉ SECK (Senegal) said terrorism, transnational organized crime and human trafficking had all fed into multiple other problems, all of which must be tackled in an integrated, multidimensional manner. Such an approach required coordination among all sectors, from development to security. Combating terrorism was likely to be in vain unless its sources of financing were cut off, education was improved and employment opportunities were available. Noting that Senegal was suffering land degradation, plagues of locusts and many other problems, he said that had led many of its young people to emigrate. The United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel could address many of those problems, but if nothing was done to combat climate change, all of northern Africa would soon be uninhabitable, he warned.
ROMÁN OYARZUN MARCHESI (Spain) said the Sahel had been defined as “Ground Zero” for global warming, and was dealing with extreme drought, torrential rains and record-high temperatures. “Projections for the Sahel are truly alarming,” he said, adding that the rapidly increasing Sahelian population had less and less land to farm. “Climate change is already changing the rules of the game,” he said, emphasizing that continuing to ignore it would only lead to failure. Today’s meeting was therefore critical, and its objectives crucial: to ensure that the Council’s commitments would not remain a dead letter; to ensure that it had the appropriate information needed to make decisions; and to address the crisis in the Sahel in a holistic manner. Climate change would become another factor for early warning, and the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel should pay due attention to its destabilizing role in the region, he stressed, urging the CTED to analyse the impact of climate change so as to determine whether it made people more vulnerable to violent extremism and recruitment. “Climate change is part of our present, and it will no doubt define our future,” he said.
WU HAITAO (China) said the expansion of terrorism and transnational organized crime had rendered the Sahel region even more fragile. The international community should promote the settlement of hotspot issues there while paying due respect to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the region’s countries. Advocating increased counter-terrorism activities in the Sahel, he said the United Nations could support regional States through capacity-building, targeted training and technical support. Those countries should formulate development strategies in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and with their specific national priorities. Underlining the importance of regional efforts to address the Sahel’s challenges, he urged the United Nations to heed the views of Sahelian States.
Peter Wilson (United Kingdom) said the Sahel had been seeing temperatures rise and rainfall dwindle; without access to diverse and productive livelihoods adaptable to climate change, young people would face even greater poverty and become even more susceptible to recruitment by terrorists. “The call of extremism will thrive in these conditions,” he warned, calling for a united international response. The United Nations must support the countries of the Sahel, he stressed, noting that the United Kingdom had contributed $26 million for building resilience, an amount that would rise to $79 million by 2017. The United Kingdom was also working to build new coalitions between civil society and other actors, and had provided $9 million in 2016 for social protection programmes. Welcoming the efforts of the Group of 5 for the Sahel (G5 Sahel — Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger), he emphasized that only regional engagement, with the support of the international community, could bring a brighter future for the Sahel’s people.
ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay) said that the international community must address the underlying causes of conflict through an integrated approach linked to climate change. That did not mean climate change should be on the agenda of the Security Council. Rather, it must be addressed in a concerted manner by other United Nations organizations, including those involved with peacebuilding. Political turmoil also played a role in instability, as did terrorism. He applauded initiatives for regional cooperation in addressing Boko Haram and other problems and expressed hope that United Nations structures would facilitate implementation of the integrated Sahel strategy. Building institutions in the region, providing education and providing access to justice were critical.
DAVID PRESSMAN (United States), countering scepticism that climate change should be discussed in the Council in regard to conflict, said that it was impossible to ignore the interplay between climate change and peace and security. The effects had already exacerbated a raft of problems; it was a threat multiplier. Terrorism, in turn, could worsen food crises that were taking place. He described the relation of Boko Haram and the shrinking of Lake Chad in worsening food security in the region. Welcoming recent regional initiatives towards a comprehensive strategy on terrorism and poverty, he called for assistance in their implementation. Boko Haram was not born out of climate change, but there was no doubt that the tensions in the region had multiplied because of the phenomenon. Wider cooperation in the region was needed in order to address both terrorism and the reasons conducive to it.
YOSHIFUMI OKAMURA (Japan), enumerating the problems of the Sahel, related his experience in northern Mali where the population had no choice but to live with terrorists and participate in an improvised economy. Japan was committed to assisting Africa to overcome such challenges through institution and capacity-building. He commended international initiatives for support to the United Nations integrated strategy on the Sahel, praising, as well, projects that reinforced the foundation of livelihoods such as the creation of multiple water reservoirs in Burkina Faso. Local ownership was critical in all counter-desertification projects, because local maintenance was needed. Local knowledge must be incorporated. Relating his country’s cooperation in the Sahel, he said that local ownership was, as a consequence, a priority.
ALEXIS LAMEK (France) underscored that the Sahel region would soon be home to more than 200 million inhabitants. If that growth was not accompanied by development, there would be negative repercussions such as insecurity and forced migration. The Sahel was at a crossroads. The world had seen in Mali how the mobilization of the international community could bear fruit and improve the situation on the ground. Underscoring the need to quickly implement the United Nations Integrated Sahel Strategy, as well as to streamline UNOWAS’s crisis prevention frameworks, he also spotlighted the importance of regional efforts on the part of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union. Indeed, stakeholders must move forward together, as terrorism in the region was a threat to all States. His country’s President had recently announced his intention to focus on a number of key areas, including Africa’s access to energy, the Great Green Wall and the restoration of the Lake Chad area.
RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela) said many of the difficult political circumstances and instability of the Sahel region had been unleashed by the 2011 intervention in Libya, making it the focus of terrorist groups, which in turn led to a climate of violence and fear. The solutions to the region’s problems should be addressed in a structural manner with an eye towards sustainable development. There was not necessarily a direct link between environmental change and armed conflicts, he said, noting that the latter was fuelled by destabilization efforts and the interests of third parties. Emphasizing the need to avoid “securitizing” the climate agenda, he said the Council was not the proper space to address the environmental issues that stemmed from climate change. Regional policies and international support in the Sahel must be well coordinated and should take into account the principles of the United Nations Charter, especially the sovereignty and self-determination of nations. Noting that Africa had historically been a victim of the ambitions of more powerful States, he stressed that the path to peace in the Sahel must respect the sovereignty of that region’s countries.
YURIY VITRENKO (Ukraine), underscoring that climate change had already affected the Sahel’s stability, said that a better understanding of the effect of that phenomenon on security risks could help countries of the region and the international community to address them. In that context, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) should elaborate guidance on combating land degradation. Closer cooperation and increased synergies between UNEP, the desertification convention and other multilateral organizations should also be encouraged. He noted that Ukraine had tabled a draft resolution at the United Nations Environment Assembly on the issue of protection of the environment in areas affected by armed conflict; the topic should be a core concern of that body. Voids due to underdevelopment in the Sahel were being filled by terrorist groups. Along with combating such groups through military means and preventing them from acquiring financing and weapons, it was also critical to address poverty and social exclusion and other root causes.
PHILLIP TAULA (New Zealand) said counter-terrorism measures were not enough, emphasizing that the economic, social and climatic factors that facilitated the recruitment of terrorists must also be considered. If groups such as Boko Haram offered a few hundred dollars a month to desperate people facing climate-induced hardship, it should not come as a surprise that many had thrown in their lot with the terrorists. It was also a mistake to designate everyone who took up arms as a terrorist, he cautioned, pointing out that when people rebelled out of a sense of hopelessness, peace and security could only be secured through negotiations addressing their grievances. Although the problem in the Sahel was reasonably well defined, the solution was lost in a surfeit of strategies, he said, welcoming the consolidation of regional United Nations offices into the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS).
ISMAEL ABRAÃO GASPAR MARTINS (Angola) noted that Governments in the Sahel were forced to spend precious resources on security instead of development, and millions of people were dependent on the benevolence of neighbouring countries and humanitarian donors. While commending those providing assistance in areas of dangerous access, he emphasized that the severity of regional problems required a more effective, comprehensive response. Climate change, in combination with the other problems, had pushed the region to the brink of disaster, creating fertile ground for radicalization. He called on the international community to accelerate implementation of the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel and to support regional efforts for development and stability.
SITI HAJJAR ADNIN (Malaysia) said that the links between conflict and other problems required a multidimensional response. Climate change had exacerbated the Sahel’s already existing vulnerabilities, greatly increasing displacement and tensions that led to violence. Malaysia commended humanitarian actors on the ground who carried out their work in spite of insecurity, she said, also praising projects that targeted youth for inclusion, since poverty and exclusion provided fertile ground for radicalization. However, there was a need to enhance coordination in implementing the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel, and to provide support for regional initiatives.
PETR V. ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) emphasized the critical need to build the capacity of countries in the region to fight terrorism and violent extremism. Desertification added to the region’s problems but did not in itself pose a threat to international peace and security, and should be considered in other United Nations forums. The fostering of technical cooperation to improve land use would be better pursued in those forums, where practical solutions could be discussed. The range of severe challenges facing the region could only be addressed through comprehensive implementation of the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel.
AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt), Council President for May, spoke in his national capacity, describing the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel as the appropriate political framework to deal effectively with the Sahel’s challenges. If implemented properly, it would help to attain a qualitative shift in the region’s situation. The review of the Strategy was an important opportunity to identify the progress made and to better understand shortcomings, he said, adding that future implementation efforts must be sufficiently flexible to adapt to escalating and emerging challenges, including climate change and the spread of terrorism. It was therefore important to raise awareness of the new threats facing the Sahel, he said, adding that partners must invest in building national and local capacities to mitigate environmental crises and ensure sustainability. Calling on UNOWAS to ensure that its future reports contained more figures and statistics that could help the Council in its work, he welcomed efforts to prioritize a comprehensive political framework for the Sahel.
PIERRE BUYOYA, African Union High Representative for Mali and the Sahel, said the bloc’s commitment to the Sahel dated back to the crisis in Libya, and the region now faced challenges in three main areas: security, governance and development. Concerning security, the main challenges were linked to terrorism, the trafficking of drugs and people, migration and conflicts over natural resources. Sahelian countries were vast and their populations often lived on the margins, nearly abandoned. Those fragile States lacked resources and control over their respective territories, he said, noting that they were among the world’s poorest countries.
The African Union was involved in a number of initiatives throughout the Sahel, he continued, noting that the region had a number of “hotspots”, including northern Mali, the Lake Chad Basin and Libya. The situation in Libya was “muddled and confused”, and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) was present. In Mali, the African Union was working to follow up on the peace agreement, including as part of the technical commission monitoring the ceasefire. It was also working with neighbouring States through the dispatch of a special envoy to follow up on the situation in Libya.
He went on to state that the African Union supported the multinational force fighting Boko Haram and was engaged in monitoring elections and other political processes in the Sahel countries. In addition, the bloc was working to mobilize African institutions working in the development sphere, he said, citing “huge” needs and recommending that international efforts be set against a long-term horizon. The Council should continue to focus on the situation in the north of Mali and on Libya, he said, warning: “As long as that country remains unstable there will be no peace in the Sahel.”
ANGEL LOSADA, Special Representative for the Sahel of the European Union, said the bloc had a multidimensional partnership with the Sahel. While the region was afflicted by a multitude of severe challenges, it also contained many opportunities, such as the consolidation of regional cooperation, as represented by the Group of 5 for the Sahel. The European Union had been the first to adopt a global approach for the region, in 2011, engendering a Regional Plan of Action adopted in 2015. Its objective was to reinforce political dialogue and provide assistance.
The bloc’s approach closely linked issues of development with security, as well as questions of short-term assistance with structural reforms for the middle-and long-term, he said. Within that approach, the European Union planned to allocate more than €5 billion to the Sahel between 2014 and 2020 through various cooperation instruments and humanitarian activities, he continued. Adding the contributions of member States, total European assistance would exceed €8 billion for that period. Furthermore, it had established an emergency fund to address the root causes of irregular migration and was providing support for the multinational force fighting against Boko Haram, he said, emphasizing the need for a collective effort to combat terrorism.
He went on to state that combating the effects of climate change in the Sahel was also a priority for Europe, notably in reinforcing the resilience of the vulnerable populations and promoting the sustainable management of resources. Sahel was “ground zero” for global warming, he added. On Mali, he recalled the opportunity provided by the peace and reconciliation agreement and affirmed Europe’s commitment to helping that country meet its security challenges. As for the cooperation among the Group of 5 for the Sahel, he described the road map that had emerged from a recent summit that had addressed security, border management, counter-terrorism, terrorism, transnational crime and other cross-border issues. Coordination among all international actors on the Sahel was critical, he said, while stressing the importance of African ownership of all such endeavours.