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Black Swans, Grey Swans, Grey Rhinos – An Increasingly Colourful Risk Landscape

While there are limited incentives to bridge silos among operating partners in the Sahel region, the risk of inaction will only continue to worsen the region’s development prospects


The operational environment in the Sahel region is characterised by being in constant transition due to three broad types of risks.

First are known risks such as poor capacities and ownership, or poor infrastructure, and lack of focus on root causes that drives poverty, conflict, and forced displacement. Second are risks that are emerging on our radar but that we haven’t totally understood or are addressing in a collective manner, for example, the effects of climate change on the underlying risks driving poverty, conflict and forced displacement.


Third are the unknown risks such as catastrophic events like droughts, conflict, and pandemics making them difficult to predict. These are referred to as Black Swan events. Yet recent experience suggests events that fit the definition of black swans are happening more and more frequently. This is evidenced by the spread of conflict and forced displacement across the region and which are predicted to get worse and more frequent due to climate change dynamics. Rather than being infrequent ‘outlier’ events, this contagion of poverty conflict and forced displacement is now part of an increasingly more uncertain region in constant transition with a population set to more than double by 2050.

Taking on risks is necessary to pursue development opportunities. The risk of inaction may well be the worst option of all. However, there are limited incentives to bridge sectoral silos among the United Nations and its partners engaged in the humanitarian, development, and peace sectors across the region. This makes it challenging to learn from our successes and failures.





Date - 12 May - 2023


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