Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called on the global community to act quickly to address what he described as a "cascading crisis" sweeping the Sahel region of West Africa, where 15 million people have been affected by the drought and conflict-related crisis in the area.
"I call upon the world to respond. Simply put, we must do more - and do it quickly," Mr. Ban said in an address to the Luxembourg Parliament. "Across the region, we see growing conflict and unrest, more people being displaced, rising food and fuel prices and severe drought.
"The statistics are sobering: 15 million people are directly affected. More than 200,000 children died of malnutrition last year - and another one million are threatened right now," he added.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the food and nutrition crisis facing countries in West Africa's drought-prone Sahel region has continued to deteriorate at an alarming rate this year despite commendable early response efforts by governments and international aid agencies. The worsening food shortages and malnutrition have been compounded by conflict and insecurity.
In his remarks to the Parliament, the UN chief said events in Libya have made an already difficult security and humanitarian situation even worse.
"Many thousands returned home to the Sahel. Some were migrant workers, but others are armed fighters criminal elements bringing with them large quantities of light and heavy weapons and ammunition," he noted, adding that in Mali, the Tuareg rebellion in the north has uprooted at least 200,000 people.
While neighbouring countries are assisting refugees who escape across borders, those who are internally displaced receive little help, he stated, adding that humanitarian agencies cannot access many parts of the region.
"A multifaceted crisis demands a multifaceted response," stated Mr. Ban, who noted at the same time that international response plans across the region are less than 40 per cent funded. "And the crisis has yet to peak."
UN agencies and partners last December appealed for $724 million to fund the humanitarian response to the crisis in the Sahel. Mr. Ban said that by acting decisively and with practical vision now, it will be possible to head off future crises.
"Across the board, we need to think differently. If the cascading crisis in the Sahel demonstrates anything, it is the need to dig deeper to get at the root causes of conflict," he said.
Mr. Ban's visit to Luxembourg, the third leg of European trip that also took him to Switzerland and Belgium, is the first visit by a UN Secretary-General to the country since 1989. Earlier in the day, he had an audience with Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg and met senior political figures, including Prime Minister Jean-Claude Junker and Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn.
The Secretary-General expressed his deep appreciation for the excellent cooperation between the UN and Luxembourg, according to information provided by Mr. Ban's spokesperson on the discussions, which also touched on issues such as Syria, Mali, Guinea-Bissau, the Middle East peace process and Sudan-South Sudan tensions.
Speaking to reporters after these meetings, Mr. Ban noted that the overall cessation of violence in Syria has been "generally observed," adding that the country's leadership should exercise maximum restraint so that the cessation can hold.
Mr. Ban is scheduled to submit a formal proposal to the Security Council by tomorrow for a UN supervision mission for Syria, where more than 9,000 civilians have been killed since the uprising began last year. The Council last weekend authorized the deployment of up to 30 observers as part of an advance team tasked with monitoring the cessation of violence.
"It is the Syrian Government's responsibility to guarantee freedom of access and freedom of movement within the country for these observers," said the Secretary-General. "They should be allowed to freely move to any places where they will be able to observe the cessation of violence."
Also today, Mr. Ban addressed the University of Luxembourg, telling students that they can make a difference, and that they personally can contribute to the UN's work for peace and to the world's development and human rights.
"This United Nations is your United Nations. And this is your moment," he stated, adding that youth around the world are shaping events as never before. "All of us can mobilize for change. With our cameras and our sense of justice, we can be human rights monitors. With our access to information and our ability to put it online, we can hold authorities to account. With our social networks, we can push for progress."