28 April 2020

COVID-19 Threatens Hard-Won Development Gains as Emergency ‘Unfolds before Our Eyes’, Deputy Secretary-General Tells European Union Meeting on G5 Sahel

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the meeting of the European Union on the G5 Sahel, in New York today:

I bring you warm greetings from the Secretary-General, António Guterres, and extend our condolences to all those who have lost their lives to conflicts and COVID-19.  We are both grateful to the European Union for organizing this important meeting.  And we also wish a blessed Ramadan to the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel) countries that are observing it.

Keeping the Sahel high on the international agenda is of utmost importance — and even more so as we face this global human crisis.  Some countries are more vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic than others.  And some are better prepared than others to face it.

The G5 Sahel is no exception.  We know that the political, social and economic impacts of the coronavirus are exacerbating pressure on the G5 Sahel countries, which were already under extreme stress.  While COVID-19 has put a pause on the world, it has certainly not put a pause on terrorism, poverty and climate change.

The subregion continues to see violence between communities.  Extremist groups have committed heinous attacks and kidnappings for ransom, killing and maiming soldiers and civilians alike, and destroying public infrastructure.  We commend the leadership of President Idris Déby Itno in the recent offensive in the Lake Chad Basin area.

The humanitarian consequences are alarming.  The impacts on people’s livelihoods are devastating.  In Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, 4 million people face extreme hunger, a figure that is expected to reach 5.5 million by August.  Behind these dramatic numbers, there are faces and families — especially of women and children.

The number of people killed in terrorist attacks has increased five-fold since 2016, with more than 4,000 deaths reported in 2019 alone.  The mounting number of displaced persons is equally disturbing.  In Burkina Faso alone, the figures have increased at a staggering pace to more than 830,000, in addition to approximately 21,000 who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.

We face a further conundrum in that some of the necessary protocols that have been put in place to counter the virus are threatening jobs and livelihoods — especially in the informal sector — as well as the preparations for elections, restricting freedom and human rights and heightening violence and tensions.

Terrorist groups are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic, taking advantage of restrictions and vulnerabilities among local communities to expand their foothold through opportunistic attacks and propaganda.  The impact on sustainable development efforts is also a major concern.  Around the globe, we are watching a development emergency unfolding before our eyes.

COVID-19 threatens to swallow hard-won development gains of the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063 and pull millions of people back, in many cases into extreme poverty.  The disruption of supply chains and fluctuations in the global economy are straining an already difficult macroeconomic environment.

The lockdown measures will put additional stress on people, jobs, livelihoods and countries who have to contend with stimulus packages despite huge fiscal gaps.  We applaud and fully support the position of the African Union on debt.  In Mali, for example, COVID-19 has already affected agriculture and led to a significant rise in prices, seriously affecting food security.

And resources that had been earmarked for State security forces and humanitarian supplies may have to be diverted to respond to the pandemic.  Support is urgently needed to bridge this life-threatening gap.

The United Nations welcomes the renewed commitment of the Heads of State of the G5 Sahel and their European partners to join forces to counter terrorism, curb organized crime and tackle the root causes of instability.  Addressing these key drivers and underlying factors must be rooted in sustainable development action in the region.

In this context, the G5 Sahel integrated framework for action sets out the priority measures needed for the redeployment of State authority and basic services in the most vulnerable areas.  The establishment of the Coalition for the Sahel to coordinate international engagement is an important step to reinforce the security measures in the region.

The European Union is a key partner and its continued support will remain essential to ensure the full operationalization of the G5 Sahel force.  The United Nations-European Union partnership has already shown its transformative potential on many fronts.  In fighting COVID-19, our partnership can make an even greater difference.  However, any effective response in the Sahel requires the commitment of the wider subregion.  I commend the adoption of the 2020-2024 action plan for the eradication of terrorism by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) last December.

While acknowledging that it takes multiple actors to confront the daunting challenges of the region, there is a need for stronger coordination between the different forces and clarity with regard to command and control.  I call on all partners to enhance coordination, exchange of information and mutual support. Transparency is also vital to gain the trust of local populations.

Both the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) have made every effort to support national and local COVID-19 responses.  As a large peacekeeping mission, MINUSMA is fully engaged to suppress transmission of COVID-19 and control its spread, while continuing to perform vital peace and security tasks to support the implementation of the Peace Agreement and the protection of civilians.

The World Health Organization (WHO), under the able leadership of Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, started coordinating “solidarity flights” with the World Food Programme (WFP) that have helped secure critical medical supplies and equipment to help countries in Africa fight the pandemic.  Our United Nations country teams are fully mobilized to support national efforts against COVID-19 and to ensure countries remain on a path towards stability and development.

Within the overarching framework of the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel and its Support Plan, we are redoubling our efforts.  Renewed regional initiatives are crucial.  We commend the leadership of the G5 Sahel Executive Secretariat for its efforts to lay out a regional plan, and welcome the efforts by the European Union, Member States, local actors, regional organizations and the international community across West Africa, the Sahel and the Lake Chad region.

We need to create the conditions for our regional partners to succeed.  The Secretary-General has always advocated and will continue to call to G5 Sahel forces to have a mandate under Chapter VII and predictable funding.  Whole‑of‑Government and whole-of-society approaches are vital, including with respect to resources for preparedness, response, recovery and resilience.  There is no other way to go.  Addressing the health and socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic is critical to reduce human suffering now and ensure we recover better tomorrow. It shouldn’t be a choice of one or the other.

COVID-19 has become a threat multiplier.  Now more than ever, we need concrete genuine solidarity — at the international, regional, national and community levels.  Let us join forces to address the multifaceted demands posed by development gaps, health and security crises, and recover better, leaving no one behind.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.