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A top UN envoy warned Wednesday that there would be more Mali-style conflict in the Sahel unless urgent action is taken to lift the African region out of poverty and desperation.
"Do not forget the Sahel or you will have more Malis," Romano Prodi, the former Italian prime minister named by the UN to produce a strategy for the impoverished bloc of countries, told the UN Security Council.
Speaking five days before a UN peacekeeping force starts operations in Mali, Prodi said "success or failure in Mali will affect the entire region."
But he added: "While focus and attention on Mali is critical ,it should not be at the cost of the rest of the region."
On the sidelines of the meeting Prodi said time is running out to prevent a repeat of the Islamist upsurge in Mali in other countries.
"So many tragedies are happening in the world. I think that we must be very, very quick, otherwise the Sahel will be in a box with so many other problems that it will be more and more difficult to intervene," he told reporters.
Prodi said that countries he had visited -- from China to the United States and Europe -- "are frightened by the idea of terrorism. They are also aware that this is the poorest part of the world."
The envoy said international efforts must be made to bolster transparent and honest governance, security, humanitarian assistance and development.
He wants to set up a Sahel Action Fund to concentrate on Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger and Chad. But instead of just giving money, he wants rich nations to choose a project and commit to finish it. Prodi points to China's example in building the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa.
Prodi wrote a recent report for UN leader Ban Ki-moon which warned that turmoil in the vast region -- running from Mauritania on Africa's west coast to Eritrea in the east -- will only worsen unless there is a joint effort to boost security and lift the fast-growing population out of poverty.
The Sahel includes conflicts in Mali and Sudan's Darfur and some of the world's poorest countries. There are regular climate crises and the population is set to "balloon" from 150 million to 250 million in 25 years, said the report.
"Nowhere is the development-security nexus more evident than in the Sahel," Ban said in the study, which highlighted "weak governance, "widespread corruption" and "chronic political instability."
"Only through strong, common preventative actions geared primarily towards development can we avoid the Sahel turning into an area dominated by criminal and terrorist groups that undermine our collective security."
The UN is to start deploying a peacekeeping force in Mali on Monday which will take over security duties from the French military.
The French army intervened in Mali in January to halt an advance on the capital by al-Qaeda linked Islamist groups which allied with Tuareg rebels to take over the northern half of the country.