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The Sahel region, a belt dividing the Sahara desert to the north and the Savannah to the south, is a drought-prone area that is home to 80 million people from Mauritania to Eritrea, including Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan.
Helping such countries will be a critical new initiative for the United Nations, World Bank group and the European Union over the next several years, a spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said on Monday.
The World Bank Group pledged $1.5 billion to assist the above countries develop safety nets in the face of global economic crises, prepare for natural disasters, and improve existing infrastructure.
Improving infrastructure, particularly transportation, throughout Africa is one of the greatest challenges to economic development, experts warn.
In a Forbes article Poor Infrastructure Is Africa’s Soft Underbelly, Harvard professor Calestous Juma says that failing transportation systems have contributed to Africa’s inability to boost its agricultural productivity and feed its neediest.
Failure to access transportation networks, due to underdeveloped infrastructure, has resulted in isolating many from entrepreneurial activities.
“Poor road networks illustrate this point. African farmers without adequate road networks are condemned to grow not what they can eat, but what they can carry on their heads and eat quickly before pests destroy it. As a result, nearly half of the hungry people in Africa are farmers,” Juma writes.
Deloitte, an international audit, financial advisory, tax and consulting group, last year said that underdeveloped infrastructure will continue to hinder Africa’s growth potential. Developing infrastructure to meet growing market demands should be the continent’s long-term priority, Deloitte says.
However, the group predicts that Africa’s infrastructure sector will be a lucrative investment opportunity in coming years.
In the meantime, as part of the new initiative announce on Monday, the EU said it would extend nearly $6.75 billion euros to Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Chad to also enhance and improve governance, rule of law and security, delivery of social services, agriculture and food security, as well as regional trade and integration.
“The challenges in the Sahel respect no borders – neither should our solutions. The cycle of crisis can be broken,” said Ban, who arrived in Mali’s capital Bamako Monday with other development leaders from the World Bank, the African Union, African Development Bank and the EU.
Ban and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim will also visit Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad.
“The people of the Sahel region desperately need more secure living standards, and our hope is this funding helps build a new path for economic growth in the region,” said Jim.
“For too long, the people of the Sahel, especially women, have struggled with the devastating impact of too little economic growth and opportunity, a harsh climate, hunger, high fertility rates and the world’s highest number of maternal and child deaths.”