The Lake Chad Basin crisis still demands the world’s attention. While scaled-up humanitarian efforts narrowly averted famine last year, continuing conflict has left almost eleven million people in urgent need of life-saving assistance, including almost eight million affected people in northeast Nigeria alone.
February 24th marked the anniversary of the ‘Oslo Humanitarian Conference on Nigeria and the Lake Chad Region’, where fourteen donors pledged $672 million to scale up and strengthen the response to urgently assist the affected people in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria for 2017 and beyond.
Today, with $460 million almost fulfilled for 2017, the pledging conference is considered to have been a success, and the funds raised to be partially responsible for forestalling famine. Yet due to continuing conflict, the Lake Chad Basin remains an acute and ever-evolving humanitarian crisis, and action is required to ensure that humanitarian aid in 2018 is continued and expanded to those that are most affected.
Two million people displaced
Although the four governments have claimed victory over the non-state armed groups operating in the area, people in the Lake Chad region continue to feel the devastating effects of fighting that has driven millions of people from their homes and made them dependent on relief services.
Women and girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation
More than two million people in the region remain displaced: some live in congested areas with no access to basic services such as food, water and shelter; others have settled with host communities, who are among the world’s poorest people. Since October 2017, 50,000 people have fled their homes in northeast Nigeria due to the ongoing conflict.
While many people displaced from their homes in these areas of Borno State are eager to return, continuing insecurity, coupled with the risk to internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnees encountering dangerous explosive remnants of war, and lack of basic services like health and education makes this currently unrealistic.
Direct targeting, abductions and killing of civilians - including the use of women and children as person-borne improvised explosive devices (PBIEDs)- and retaliatory military offensives have created a climate of fear, distrust and abuse. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation with more than a thousand cases reported to just one protection agency in northeast Nigeria; many more likely remain unreported due to stigmatization and fear of reprisal.
Barriers to assistance remain
2017 showed that famine could be averted in Nigeria, in part thanks to the success of the Oslo Conference in ensuring the humanitarian funding needed to tackle extreme hunger. However, the food security and nutrition situation remains extremely fragile across the four countries, exacerbated by cycles of disease outbreaks such as cholera and Hepatitis E.
Without maintaining and expanding food and livelihood assistance, it is estimated that nearly four million people in Nigeria will become critically food insecure in the lean season of 2018. Two million people are already food insecure across Cameroon, Niger and Chad. Over half a million children already suffer from malnutrition, most of them in northeast Nigeria, with no sign of that rate decreasing.
In the past year, humanitarian actors were able to expand their reach and delivery of assistance, but barriers to movement remain in many places, preventing assistance from reaching hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable people. An estimated 930,000 people remain hard to reach by international humanitarian actors in northeast Nigeria. Obstacles include insecurity, restrictions by authorities and logistical challenges. These have left people in large parts of northeast Nigeria, most of the islands of the Lake in Chad, and some areas in Niger without access to the aid they need.
The Lake Chad crisis is far from being resolved, and the situation requires increased political and financial attention from the governments of the region and the international community. Lives and livelihoods are at stake and more must be done to meet the basic needs and ensure the safety and dignity of vulnerable women, men and children.