5 African crises to watch in 2018

New refugees, mostly women and children, flee a recent flare up in violence in the Northwest of the Central African Republic in Chad. Photo by: © UNHCR/Ezzat Habib Chami

ABIDJAN — A recently published analysis by the Assessment Capacities Project, or ACAPS, a Geneva-based humanitarian think tank, is warning international aid agencies to prepare for a busy year ahead, as many of 2017’s persistent humanitarian crises are expected to worsen and shrinking humanitarian budgets will hamper addressing the needs of affected populations.

“The Humanitarian Overview: An analysis of key crises into 2018” takes a look into 17 ongoing humanitarian crises worldwide, including many that impact African countries such as Libya, Somalia, Nigeria, Mali, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sudan, and South Sudan.

Across East and West Africa, the humanitarian crises report highlighted food security as a priority throughout, along with severe protection needs for internally displaced people as displacement remains a common thread across many listed crises. Funding gaps, access to proper water and sanitation infrastructure, along with proper health facilities and humanitarian access to affected communities also remain high concerns in the coming year, the report warns.

“Of course, even when these countries begin to show signs of progress, local and national governments, NGOs, civil society, the local community, and private sector all have a stake in ensuring progressive recovery efforts, but at the moment it’s such a long way off,” said Jude Sweeney, senior analyst and ACAPS analysis team lead told Devex.

Sweeney noted that, even in areas where armed conflict has decreased, like in Sudan for example, complex peace negotiations remain stagnant.

Displacement across conflict-affected areas in Africa directly impacts a range of social, political, and economic process, and diminishes current development gains on the continent. Last month, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimated that 2.7 million people were newly displaced in Africa during the first six months of 2017, an equivalent of 15,000 people forced from their homes daily. Roughly three-quarters of those were allegedly due to conflict and violence. With disrupted markets and reduced access to economic activities, high levels of malnutrition, exacerbated poverty levels, and environmental degradation, displacement weakens the resiliency of communities and places a high level of stress on available humanitarian aid.

Here is a look at the top five crises to watch in Africa in 2018:

1. Lake Chad Basin

Dubbed “the most forgotten crisis of 2016,” the Lake Chad Basin in West Africa showed very little improvement in 2017.

Aid groups ask for help in dealing with forgotten crisis of Lake Chad Basin

Experts responding to the ongoing Lake Chad Basin crisis call on the international community for both funding and visibility to prevent the spread of malnutrition, illness and other residuals left behind by Boko Haram fighters.

More than nine years since its initial insurgency, militant group Boko Haram still wreaks havoc across Northeast Nigeria, Southeast Niger, Western Chad and far North Niger where the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs approximates that more than 17 million people are still impacted, with 10.9 million in need of humanitarian aid. While Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari insists that Nigeria has defeated Boko Haram, sporadic attacks continue and leaders of the extremist group even claimed responsibility for attacks in the northeast region around the Christmas holiday last month.

The ACAPS report lists Northeast Nigeria as an ongoing crisis. However, displacement figures have risen there from less than 1 million in 2015 to more than 2.2 million at the end of 2017. In 2018, food security, humanitarian access and health will remain priority concerns, where current humanitarian aid is limited to certain major towns. The report also estimates that 7.2 million people are food insecure due to limited food production and availability at local markets. An aid worker based in Northeast Nigeria recently told Devex that raids on food aid are also common.

Damaged health and education facilities limit the local support available to affected communities and movement of local populations further strains resources available within host communities and at internally displaced people camps.

2. DRC and the Central African Republic

Continued violence and unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic are expected to exacerbate internal and external displacement, as well as increase food shelter and protection needs, the report notes.

A Jan. 3 report released by CARE International estimates that 4.1 million Congolese are displaced, with 620,000 seeking refuge in neighboring countries. An additional 7.5 million people are believed to be food insecure, up 30 percent from last year.

Funding shortfalls stunt humanitarian response in DRC

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has the highest number of people displaced from conflict in the world. But the crisis is not attracting funding.

Fighting between local militias and the national government ignited in 2016, largely due to President Kabila’s refusal to step down from power at the end of his term. Following several election postponements, and an unclear election date in 2018, violence is expected to continue and potentially worsen in opposition stronghold regions such as the Greater Kasai, Nord and Sud Kivu and in Tanganyika. Frustration among local populations is expected to trigger further violence and heighten protection, displacement and food security needs.

In Central African Republic, fighting continues among the loose alliances established by ex-Seleka Muslim and anti-Balaka Christian militant groups. Since 2016, the two groups have pooled military resources and expanded their influence, notably in the country’s Southeast. The 2017 withdrawal of international forces sparked the geographical spread of fighting, and reduced humanitarian response capabilities as access deteriorated countrywide. UNOCHA reported more than 230 incidents to aid workers as of November last year, including 13 deaths.

The number of IDPs in 2017 reached the highest level since 2014. The security situation is likely to continue to worsen in 2018, exacerbating food and shelter needs, and driving more displacement.

3. Mali

Aid groups see rising security risk in Mali even as needs grow

Security threats in Mali that historically were confined to the country's northern region have increasingly spread to the country's central and southern regions, raising major concerns about the possible impact this could have on the greater Sahel region.

Increasing violence across central and Northern Mali gained the attention of the international community in 2017. The International NGO Safety Organization recorded 2475 incidents through October 2017, mostly robberies and intimidation incidents to local and international aid workers. During a July visit to the country’s Mopti region last year, one humanitarian told Devex that all international staff had been evacuated and relocated to the capital of Bamako due to safety concerns. As part of their updated security protocols, international staff were also not allowed to visit the central and northern regions for extended periods and were on strict curfews during visits there.

Local populations here have created alliances of armed groups, mostly expressing disappointment to the government's lack of influence and support to the region. West Africa analyst at Control Risks, Vincent Rouget told Devex that this has made “a very fertile ground for Islamic militants or radical discourses to take place.”

The crises report labeled Mali a deteriorating environment as continued state neglect will likely result in increased scarcity of resources and threaten humanitarian movement and safety in the central and northern regions. Due to porous borders, humanitarians are also concerned about the security situation in Northern Burkina Faso and Western Niger, where Islamist armed groups launched sporadic attacks in 2017. Protection and displacement needs will be high priority, along with food security as access to inputs are limited.

4. Sudan and South Sudan

“In Sudan the conflict has remained relatively stable; we haven’t seen a significant escalation in violence and similarly the food security situation hasn’t significantly worsened,” Sweeney said.

During 2017, the conflict in Sudan was characterized by regular incidents of violence rather than any major new offensives, yet humanitarian organizations have had limited access to most of the conflict-affected areas. A ceasefire prompted a decrease in overall violence between government forces and nonstate armed groups during the first part of last year, however by year’s end violence had resumed. More than 2.3 million people remain internally displaced and 3.8 million people countrywide are food insecure, the report estimates.

The spread of acute watery diarrhea in 2017 exposed the country’s weak health system. The outbreak spread rapidly, and as of November 2017, the World Health Organization reported more than 35,000 suspected AWD cases and more than 800 associated deaths. The Sudanese government has been reluctant to refer to the outbreak as cholera and therefore, suspected cholera cases have likely been under-reported.

In 2018, the security situation is unlikely to improve, with a continuous number of high refugee arrivals from South Sudan expected, along with poor sanitation and health infrastructures to support any disease outbreak. Displacement will likely limit access to normal economic activities, and protection, nutrition, and health will remain priorities.

The situation in South Sudan is expected to deteriorate in 2018, with protection, food security, and health needs as priority concerns. In 2017, the country declared famine for the first time.

“When we look at the displacement figures for 2017, the food security situation and ongoing protection concerns, in terms of humanitarian impact the situation is deteriorating,” Sweeney told Devex. “However, the conflict dynamic has remained more or less the same since last year.”

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The economic crisis is further contributing to declining conditions in South Sudan. The cost of staple foods such as maize and sorghum were twice as high in August 2017 compared to the same time during 2016, the report claimed. Rising fuel prices impacted the mobility of agriculture and spurred criminality among civilians and armed groups. Ongoing insecurity and competition for territorial control are likely to contribute to further displacement and extreme levels of insecurity, the report noted.

5. Horn of Africa

While Ethiopia was listed as an ongoing crisis during the time of publication of the Humanitarian Overview 2018, Sweeney said perhaps the classification was a bit optimistic, and leans more towards a deteriorating situation, as Somalia is classified.

Somalia, particularly, showed a notable peak in violence in 2017. The Al-Shabaab militant group was more active, and a number of new militias appeared across the country, making a once isolated conflict more widespread. Drought across the country also worsened, exacerbating food insecurity. According to the report, more than 2 million are internally displaced due to drought and conflict. More than half the country’s population is in need of food assistance and humanitarian access remains restricted due to insecurity and armed conflict.

Poor rainfalls are expected to continue across this East Africa region, impacting both Somalian and Ethiopian food security. Poor harvests, livestock losses, and rising food costs have reduced purchasing power and access to nutritious meals. Decreased community resilience following the 2017 drought will continue to compound humanitarian needs in 2018. WASH and nutrition gaps will also increase health needs.

Read more Devex coverage on humanitarian crises.

About the author

  • Christin roby

    Christin Roby

    Christin Roby is the West Africa Correspondent for Devex. Based in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, she covers global development trends, health, technology, and policy. Before relocating to West Africa, Christin spent several years working in local newsrooms and earned her Master of Science in videography and global affairs reporting from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Her informed insight into the region stems from her diverse coverage of more than a dozen African nations.