YAOUNDE, Cameroon

Twelve million children have been forced out school in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic, as well as widespread conflict, across Africa’s Central Sahel region, a humanitarian group said Monday.

In a statement, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said children had missed up to four months of school across Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger due to COVID-19 restrictions, while 776,000 could not attend school the entire year due to insecurity in the region.

“Children are in the midst of a dual health and security threat in the Central Sahel. All the 40,000 schools in the region were forced to close because of the pandemic, pushing students from pre-school to secondary levels out of class in an area where access to education is often already hampered by growing insecurity, repeated displacement and poverty,” the statement quoted Maureen Magee, the Regional Director of NRC in Central and West Africa, as saying.

Magee added that 4,000 schools have been shut down or razed. “Too many children whose lives are already devastated by conflict, now watch their future hang by a thread.”

“The situation for students in conflict-affected schools in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger remains at a standstill. Over 4,000 schools remained closed for 776,000 students because of insecurity alone during 2019-2020 school year. This is almost twice as much as in 2018-2019,” said the NRC.

Last week, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said urgent efforts are needed to avoid the “disastrous consequences” of a rapidly worsening humanitarian crisis in the Central Sahel region.

To discuss the issue, Denmark, in partnership with Germany, the EU and the UN, is hosting a ministerial roundtable conference for the Central Sahel on Oct. 20 in Copenhagen.

“Tomorrow’s pledging conference on the Central Sahel must place education and protecting schools firmly on its agenda. It cannot be the site of broken promises once again,

“Only real political commitments commensurate with the education stakes in the region will enable children to turn over a new leaf and write a brighter chapter for the next school year,” said Magee.

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