Humanitarian organizations are calling for more attention and additional resources to help the 2.4 million people across the four-country region of the Lake Chad Basin in West Africa who have been displaced by the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency.
The International Committee for the Red Cross warns that this situation — which was named the “most neglected crisis of 2016” in a survey conducted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation — could see a growing human toll in northeastern Nigeria, far north Cameroon, western Chad and eastern Niger if there is not increased support from the international community.
“The Lake Chad Basin area even pre-conflict is characterized by a fragile, Sahelian ecosystem, relative poverty, demographic stress, weak state authority, absent or frail public services, social inequities, ethnic heterogeneity and monolithic economics,” ICRC Lake Chad operations coordinator Christian Wabnitz said.
Many of the most remote areas in each of the impacted countries went weeks, even months, in 2016 without food, creating a dire food security situation with high rates of malnutrition, Wabnitz said.
In December 2016 alone, more than 1 million people in conflict-affected zones in northeast Nigeria received food or cash assistance. In all of 2016, the food security sector in Nigeria provided food assistance, agricultural inputs and livelihood support to some 2.3 million people, reaching 50 percent more people than initially targeted in the 2016 Humanitarian Response Plan set forth by local governments and humanitarian partners.
However, with an estimated 7 million people still considered food insecure at crisis and emergency level, according to the latest situation report from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and 515,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, the importance of crisis response is severe.
An overall $1.5 billion financial requirement is needed in 2017 for projects related to the Lake Chad Basin to assist more than 8 million people, according to OCHA.
ICRC has dedicated a $150 million regional budget to this issue, putting it among the top five largest operations of the ICRC worldwide, a clear indication of its remaining priority, Wabnitz added.
Providing relief aid to the most needy in the region had been largely delayed in 2016 due to the volatile instability caused by Boko Haram fighters.
Slight security improvements have allowed aid workers to navigate in country more fluidly than in years past. This extra access has meant that experts have been better able to measure the impact of the conflict — especially in major structural sectors such as agriculture and trade where the long-term effects of the crisis will need major efforts to repair fully.
“We are seeing alarming levels of need because aid agencies over the past months have been able to move around much more and we now understand the gravity of the situation far better than we did at the outset of 2016,” explained OCHA Sahel Regional Coordinator Toby Lanzer.
From the OCHA perspective, the situation is a “double humanitarian crisis,” Cameroon country coordinator Max Schott told Devex.
“On one hand we have the impact of the Lake Chad Basin crisis, which is linked to Boko Haram and the ongoing military operations and this is overlapping a more structural or chronic crisis, which is linked to limited access to basic shelter and services, malnutrition, food insecurity and epidemics,” Schott explained.
In Niger, the World Food Programme Country Director Benoit Thiry says the situation in the Diffa region of Niger is “relatively” stable, citing only sporadic attacks on villages and health centers.
He said it is time to move from providing emergency response relief in the Lake Chad area to crafting long-term solutions. “We need to have an emergency operation because there are people who urgently need food, but we need a development plan at the same time to [ensure] these people can earn a living and be happy to stay in the region.”
Experts are hoping that with increased visibility, the region will move out of the shadows of other global crises such as the Syrian conflict or the migration situation in Europe, and with it will come increased funding.
Money is not seen as the single solution, Schott said, but resources are key for institutions and professionals to reach populations in distress.
“My plea to senior managers within all aid agencies, make sure you are paying attention to some of the crises which are overlooked or sometimes misunderstood,” Lanzer urged his counterparts.
Instead, Lanzer reminded aid workers in 2017 to uphold the principle of impartiality that dictates that aid should be provided in accordance of need.
For Wabnitz, humanitarian actors alone can’t solve the conflict, nor can a sole military response against Boko Haram bring a solution either.
In Nigeria, the fight against Boko Haram continues, and last week, a military plane seeking to attack the extremists accidentally targeted a refugee camp killing 52 people and injuring more than 100.
“Greater commitment and engagement from the region’s governments and the international community is needed,” Wabnitz said. “Though the overall humanitarian response has increased in the region, this trend needs to be sustained to respond to the scale and depth of the challenges.”
Read more international development news online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive the latest from the world’s leading donors and decision-makers — emailed to you free every business day.