Media CenterCRS Supports Church Leaders Across the Sahel to Address Growing Violence and Unrest
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Director of Communications
Catholic Relief Services
OUAGADOUGOU, BURKINA FASO, November 19, 2019 – During a two-day meeting in West Africa, Catholic Church leaders from five West African countries came together in a first-of-its-kind regional gathering where they committed to bringing peace to the Sahel. The region is facing increasing violence and conflict that has led to a growing humanitarian crisis.
“The Church cannot remain insensitive to the magnitude and the consequences of the [crisis] in which populations are plunged. We reaffirm our commitment to collaborate with all people of good will so that […] we will put a stop to the killings and the displacement of the [people], […] and that work is committed to effective conflict prevention, and lasting peace and sustainable living, especially through the practice of dialogue, justice and reconciliation,” the Church leaders said in a statement released on Friday, Nov. 15.
Organized by Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the meeting was held Nov. 12-13 in Burkina Faso and brought together bishops, priests and lay delegates of the bishops’ conferences from Burkina, Niger, Mali, where an increase in violence over the past several years has triggered a whole new level of desperation. The Catholic bishops’ conferences of Ivory Coast and Ghana were also represented, as the region’s porous borders pose a real risk of the violence spreading to neighboring countries.
West Africa’s Sahel region is home to some of the world's poorest communities where families are confronted with chronic food shortages, scarce natural resources, environmental degradation, climate change, corruption and high unemployment. Increasing violence over the past few years has killed scores, displaced millions of people and closed thousands of schools. Burkina Faso, for example, was once considered one of the safest countries in Africa, but half a million people have been displaced by increasing attacks this year alone.
The local Church, with support from CRS, is responding to this escalating crisis with plans to ramp up social cohesion, education and humanitarian assistance programs. CRS is also providing clean water, food and shelter for people affected by the insecurity, and is continuing its long-term development programs to help families access better healthcare, education and improve agricultural practices.
“There are several different armed groups in the region engaged in conflict and violence, but with the leadership of the local Church, CRS will focus on addressing the root causes such as poverty, youth unemployment, a lack of education and an erosion of the social fabric,” said Jennifer Overton, CRS’ West Africa regional director.
Church leaders in the region are now calling on the international community “to respect the right of people to dispose of their natural local resources for their own development, to stop the activities of predation or looting of natural resources, to put an end to the unfair agreements that undermined the development of states, and the sale of weapons that fuel conflicts, destabilize states and incite attacks that sow desolation within populations,” according to their statement.
In addition, CRS calls on the US government to balance its military interventions with an equal commitment to humanitarian, development and social cohesion funding. “This conflict can’t be solved through military intervention alone. We have to ensure we build trust among communities, provide education to young people and prevent the violence from spreading further,” Overton said.
Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. The agency alleviates suffering and provides assistance to people in need in more than 100 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality. CRS’ relief and development work is accomplished through programs of emergency response, HIV, health, agriculture, education, microfinance and peacebuilding. For more information, visit www.crs.org or www.crsespanol.org and follow Catholic Relief Services on social media in English at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube; and in Spanish at: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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