UN envoy warns of instability in Sahel and Lake Chad basin

Instability in Mali is spilling over into Burkina Faso and Niger while insecurity in the Lake Chad basin, where Boko Haram remains active, is proving equally challenging, the U.N. envoy for West Africa and the Sahel warned Thursday.

Mohamed Ibn Chambas told the U.N. Security Council that "efforts by member states in the region to deliver on development, improve infrastructure, create jobs and strengthen human security are being hampered by traditional and new drivers of conflict and insecurity."

"Terrorism and violent extremism, in addition to the humanitarian crisis and threats to state integrity that they generate, have exacerbated traditional threats," he said.

Chambas said these factors, along with climate change, a growing youth population and lack of jobs, and unchecked urbanization are pushing a surge in migration and human trafficking.

In the Sahel, he said, the Liptako Gourma region linking Mali with Burkina Faso and Niger "has seen a significant expansion of violent extremist and terrorist activities in the past months, including coordinated cross-border attacks against security posts and ransacking of border settlements."

Chambas said violent extremist groups targeted Burkina Faso's northern provinces of Soum, Loroum and Yatenga and Niger's western regions of Tillaberi and Tahoua, which has had "detrimental effects on the local economy."

In the Lake Chad basin, which spans parts of seven countries, "an equally challenging pole of insecurity remains" despite a multinational task force's efforts that "have substantially degraded Boko Haram's capabilities, shrunk its geographical reach, and freed thousands of captives," he said.

Chambas said recent attacks in Nigeria's northeastern city of Maiduguri and in eastern Niger's Diffa region "demonstrate that Boko Haram continues to pose a serious threat in the area."

"The mode and sophistication of these attacks have raised suspicions that the Boko Haram militants might have acquired reinforcements," he said.

Chambas said instability continues to have "devastating humanitarian consequences," with up to 5.2 million people displaced across the Lake Chad basin "struggling for their very subsistence."

"The failure to provide basic services and viable livelihood opportunities for communities in affected areas risks derailing recent successes against Boko Haram," he warned.

Chambas said West Africa and the Sahel also face other pressing security threats, among them clashes between farmers and herders, transnational organized crime, drug and weapons smuggling, and human trafficking.

He said smugglers are crisscrossing borders and establishing new operational areas where governments have withdrawn or maintain only "a tentative presence." Insecurity and lawlessness now stretch to the Gulf of Guinea, "where criminal elements increasingly resort to piracy and hostage-taking," he said.