U.N. seeks record $2 billion for Sahel as migration specter looms

By Emma Farge DAKAR (Reuters) - The United Nations sought on Wednesday a record $2 billion for the Sahel in what a senior U.N. official says is necessary to tackle a triple crisis of poverty, insecurity and climate change that could lead to a new wave of migration. The United Nations has increased its appeal for the nine countries in the semi-arid band stretching from Senegal to Chad more than 10-fold in as many years, but each year funding has fallen short. Toby Lanzer, U.N. regional humanitarian coordinator, said it would be difficult for top donors from Western governments to up their pledges with many competing crises but said it was in their own best interest to do so. "Right now people are riding their bicycles from Russia into Norway," he said, referring to Syrian refugees arriving in northern Europe. "Eventually, you are going to have thousands or tens of thousands of people (from the Sahel) who will seek opportunities elsewhere or, if worst comes to the worst, be forced to flee," he told Reuters. Attacks by militants from the radical Islamist group Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin, as well as efforts by regional armies to counter them, have already forced 2.5 million people to flee their homes - a figure that has tripled in 12 months. Communities whose livelihoods are affected by the violence are particularly vulnerable to radicalization and timely humanitarian assistance such as food and healthcare can help counter that, the United Nations said. Climate change is another factor behind the growing number of vulnerable people across the region, with unpredictable rainfall patterns due mostly to human activity in richer countries regularly affecting food production. A portion of the 2016 funding, part of a $20.1 billion record U.N. humanitarian appeal, will also go towards education which Lanzer hopes will encourage young girls to finish schooling and cap population growth in a region ill-equipped to cope with a forecast sixfold increase in the population by 2100. The biggest country recipient in 2016 will be Chad with $567 million, which has suffered a series of Boko Haram suicide bombings in recent months, followed by Mali with $354 million and Niger with $316 million. All three countries are in the bottom dozen countries on the U.N. human development index. (Reporting by Emma Farge and Kieran Guilbert; Editing by Angus MacSwan)