UN, EU pledge $8.25 billion to Africa's Sahel

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By PETER JAMES SPIELMANN, Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The World Bank and the European Union on Monday pledged $8.25 billion to boost economic growth and fight poverty in Africa's Sahel region.

The announcement came on the eve of an historic trip to the Sahel by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.

The EU is donating $6.75 billion over seven years. The World Bank is contributing $1.5 billion over two years.

The joint visit began Monday in conflict-torn Mali and continues to Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad. On Tuesday, Ban and Kim will attend a regional ministerial meeting in Mali's capital, Bamako. Other leaders making the trip are: Andris Piebalgs, the European Union Commissioner for Development; African Union Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma; and African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka.

"The leaders of the Sahel are coming together to tackle their challenges in a concerted way," Ban said Friday. "We are convinced that the cycle of crises in the Sahel can be broken. The region can move from fragility to sustainability."

He said the crisis in Mali — where a March 2012 coup led to an Islamic jihadist takeover of the north and a French intervention to oust them — "underscored the need to do more than fight fires in the region."

The Sahel — the arid region just south of the Sahara Desert that stretches across North Africa from Mauritania to Eritrea — has suffered three major droughts in less than a decade, Ban said Friday.

More than 11 million people are at risk of hunger and 5 million children under five are at risk of acute malnutrition, he said. In addition unconstitutional changes in governments, terrorist acts and organized crime threaten the region's stability.

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