The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) will lead a $30 million, five-year programme aimed at controlling the sales and trafficking of small arms in West Africa, where more than 8 million illicit weapons are in private hands, representing about half of all the small arms held illegally in the continent, the agency said.
The Small Arms Control Project will focus on the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and will also help build the capacity of the region's national Small Arms Commissions, while providing technical support to the ECOWAS secretariat's Small Arms Unit.
"I want to particularly mention our fruitful collaboration with UNDP and pay tribute to our partners for their financial and technical support," said ECOWAS Executive Secretary Mohammed Ibn Chambas at Tuesday's launch of the project, which is known by the acronym ECOSAP.
"With their assistance, ECOSAP will be a five-year programme through which ECOWAS will support the National Commissions and small arms control initiatives by civil society and other national and international partners," he said.
The project has been strongly supported by the Government of the Netherlands and other partners include the European Union (EU), Finland, France, Japan and Sweden.
Joseph Byll-Cataria, the UNDP Resident Representative in Mali, stressed that the agency and its partners are working to try to reduce armed violence in the region and combat its impact on stability, security, and human development.
Easy access to illicit weapons for organized crime, terrorism and civil conflict creates a cycle of violence disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable members of society - the children, women and elderly who account for more than 80 per cent of the victims of killings by firearms in West Africa, UNDP said.
ECOSAP will succeed the Programme for Coordination and Assistance for Security and Development (PCASED), which pioneered efforts to control the proliferation of small arms in West Africa and led to the creation of National Small Arms Commissions in 12 of the 15 ECOWAS countries.