New York — The Sahel is at a critical juncture. Political turmoil, extreme climatic conditions and fragile economies are combining to create a perfect storm of vulnerability.
The people and governments of the region need urgent international support.
Terrorist groups, transnational criminal organizations and insurgencies threaten peace and prosperity. There is a particularly disturbing rise in extremism, and human rights abuses are prevalent. Human trafficking is on the rise, along with drug trafficking and arms smuggling.
At the same time, development is under threat. Environmental shocks such as floods, droughts and locust swarms, combined with global food price volatility, are eroding resilience.
In 2012, more than 18 million people have been affected by a severe food and nutrition crisis. More than 1.1 million children are at risk of severe acute malnutrition.
The current emergency is the third since 2005. Households cannot absorb these repeated shocks.
The instability in northern Mali has caused more than 260,000 refugees to flee to neighbouring countries, further straining already fragile social and economic infrastructure.
All actors with influence over groups in the region need to continue to stress the necessity of upholding international humanitarian and human rights law, and ensuring access to assistance.
Any proposed military solution to the security crisis in northern Mali should be considered extremely carefully. This could have significant humanitarian consequences, including further displacement and restrictions on humanitarian access.
There are no easy answers.
The causes are beyond the control of individual states and require concerted regional action.
That is why we are here today.
At the request of the Security Council, the United Nations is developing an Integrated Regional Strategy on the Sahel that will strengthen regional capacities to combat insecurity, prevent and respond to large-scale crises, and promote democratic governance and respect for human rights.
First, the strategy will help the countries of the Sahel to stem the terrorist threat, fight organized crime and control the proliferation of weapons. This will include tackling money laundering and improving border management.
Second, the strategy will promote inclusiveness, conciliation and mediation to decrease tensions within and between countries. Regional forums that bring together government officials, religious leaders, civil society and cross-border communities will be part of the picture.
Third, the strategy will seek to strengthen the short- and long-term ability of communities to cope with extreme climatic conditions and market shocks. This means building regional mechanisms for early warning, disaster risk reduction, livelihood support, and social protection.
Fourth, the strategy will place great emphasis on environmental management. The countries of the Sahel need to better regulate their extractive industries, improve water resource management, adapt to climate change and regulate land tenure and access. Harnessing cheap, renewable energy must also be seen as an essential component of any effort to combat environment degradation.
Finalizing and implementing the strategy will require broad consultations with our implementing partners, including regional organizations, bilateral partners and the Member States of the region.
This high-level event is a first step.
The strategy will also require strong coordination among the UN presences in the region.
To that end, I intend to appoint a Special Envoy for the Sahel who will be responsible for finalizing the strategy and monitoring its implementation. He or she will ensure coherence of effort among UN actors and help mobilize the support and resources needed to meet its objectives.
The Sahel has a rich history and a rich cultural tradition.
With your support, it has rich potential.
To the people of the region: I say the United Nations is determined to work with you to build a more secure, stable and prosperous future where the basic rights of all are respected.
It will take time and sustained investment to bounce back and rebuild.
Heads of State must invest now in recovery programmes that will allow communities to exit the current food crisis and provide a platform to build long-term resilience.
To the international community I say: this region needs your attention, your focus. Do not abandon it and regret it later.
Let us work together now to bring peace, prosperity and human rights to all the people of the Sahel.
I count on your leadership. This year's crisis should be the region's last.
Thank you for your leadership and commitment.