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The Sahel region is facing a host of problems, which are mutually reinforcing. Fast population growth is one of them. Societies need to get a grip on it – and may then even benefit from a demographic dividend. Young women and girls must be empowered for traditional role models to change.

The Sahel region, which stretches along the southern edge of the Sahara desert, has a reputation of crisis. Crucial issues include armed conflict, which has become worse after the fall of Libya’s long-serving leader Muammar Gaddafi, and worsening water shortages due to the climate crises. Women and girls are particularly exposed to increasing ecological threats.

Since 2015, extreme militant jihadism in the Sahel has doubled, causing many fatalities. In a recent report, the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) pointed out that in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, terrorism led to more than 4,000 fatalities in 2019. Three years earlier, the number had been 770. Extremist groups include Al ­Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) and Boko Haram, but separatist Tuareg forces are causing trouble too. The Covid-19 pandemic has compounded the humanitarian situation in the Sahel contributing to an increase in civil unrest by about 10 % since 2020. It has resulted in ever more people fleeing their homes. The numbers of internal displaced persons and cross-border refugees has kept growing. Mass media worldwide depict this region as mired in multiple severe problems. (For an assessment of the situation in Nigeria, see Ben Ezeamalu on our D+C/E+Z platform).

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