The UN chief told the Security Council yesterday that the crisis in Mali, where Islamist groups allied with al-Qaida now control the north, is part of "a sustained, systemic crisis across the entire Sahel region."
"The warning lights for the Sahel region continue to flash," Ban said. "Extreme climatic conditions and fragile economies only add to this toxic brew of vulnerability."
This year, Ban said, an estimated 18.7 million people in the region don't have enough food and over one million children under the age of five are at risk of acute malnutrition.
The secretary-general said the challenges in Mali can't be addressed effectively unless the international community also confronts challenges affecting the broader region, which also includes Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and southern Algeria.
Romano Prodi, the UN envoy for the Sahel, said he is working to organise global support to promote humanitarian aid and long-term development in the region, and to help reunite Mali.He warned that the Sahel crisis "may spread if not tackled in time."
Prodi stressed that nothing can be done on the humanitarian and development fronts "without restoring the unity of Mali in a peaceful Sahel."Mali was plunged into turmoil in March after a coup in the capital of Bamako created a security vacuum. That allowed the secular Tuaregs, who have long felt marginalised by Mali's government, to take half the north as a new homeland.
But months later, the rebels were kicked out by Islamist groups allied with al-Qaida, which have now imposed strict Shariah law in the north.
Prodi said what must happen immediately is preparations for "transparent and free democratic elections as soon as possible."