Lake Chad meeting to take on humanitarian-development nexus

A major humanitarian crisis continues to grip Africa’s Lake Chad basin, where violence and destruction have caused huge population displacements, left hundreds of thousands of children trapped behind conflict lines and led to a dramatic increase in malnutrition. Photo by: Espen Røst / Bistandsaktuelt / CC BY-NC-ND

BRUSSELS — Donors and NGOs working in Africa’s Lake Chad region will meet in Berlin next month to pledge money for humanitarian needs and to improve coordination, trying to better link short-term aid with long-term development projects in this crisis-hit region.

The United Nations estimates that $1.6 billion is required this year to help 10.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in the zone encompassing parts of Niger, Chad, Cameroon, and Nigeria. Conflict continues to worsen the effects of food shortages and pasture deficits linked to climate change, with aid required to alleviate hunger and provide water and sanitation, shelter, hygiene, health care, and education.

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The conference, co-hosted by Nigeria, Norway, Germany, and the U.N., follows the Oslo conference in 2017, which raised $672 million. As a result, the organizers reported: “more than six million people were reached with assistance in 2017, and in north-east Nigeria a famine was averted.”

“There is a continuing shift in needs, and as areas have become accessible, new needs have in some instances emerged,” said Marcy Vigoda, chief of the partnership and resource mobilization branch at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “People say: ‘If you were so successful, then why have needs not gone down?’ Well, they haven’t gone down because there hasn’t been sufficient attention to resilience and development, but also there is still ongoing conflict and therefore there’s displacement.”

“There are no humanitarian solutions to humanitarian problems.”

— Marcy Vigoda, chief of the partnership and resource mobilization branch at UNOCHA

On Sept. 3, the Berlin meeting will include panels on humanitarian assistance and protection of civilians, crisis prevention and stabilization, and building resilience for sustainable development.

“All donors do not see stabilization in the same way” however, according to Per Byman, managing director of the Norwegian Refugee Council Germany. “Whereas Germany has a relatively ‘people-centered’ approach, with a stable environment for the concerned population as a priority, other countries put much more focus on a stable government or an efficient military, with less regard for the effects on human rights, for example.”

“There are no humanitarian solutions to humanitarian problems,” Vigoda said. “Those only come from addressing root causes and looking at ways to strengthen resilience and move toward sustainable development.”

In the past year, she pointed to the creation of the Oslo Consultative Group for Prevention and Stabilization in the Lake Chad Region, a governors forum, a U.N. development program mission with OCHA in July examining resilience programming, and the Lake Chad Basin Commission and African Union Commission’s work on a stabilization strategy — likely to be presented at the U.N. in New York in September.

“There are a number of pieces of work, and rather than maintaining silos, we really want to bring these together,” Vigoda said. “Ultimately the solution to the crisis needs to be a combination of continuing to address immediate humanitarian needs, strengthening the resilience of people in the region and looking at solutions for sustainable development, and then supporting political processes toward … reconciliation, re-establishment of basic services, supporting local government, etc.”

CARE Chad Country Director Pierre Valiquette, who represents international NGOs in the country working in the Lake Chad area, sees these challenges first hand. In 2015, he and his colleagues approached development donors with a proposal to work with displaced people on revenue-generating activities to allow them to regain their autonomy.

“They told us, ‘oh no, that’s the humanitarian caseload’ … So we went to the humanitarians who told us, ‘sorry, we are about saving lives, your activities are too much development [focused].’” Three years later, Valiquette said, those people are still not autonomous, “because we didn’t prepare projects on rapid resilience and development from the beginning.”

Valiquette said stabilization efforts also require basic social services from governments. When CARE asks people from islands on Lake Chad if they are ready to return, “they say, ‘no, because we know now what school and health care is,’” Valiquette said. The schools they have been exposed to may only involve a teacher with basic training, teaching once a week under a tree, 10 kilometers walk away, “but the parents are amazed … For them, it’s already something immense.”

Vigoda told Devex, earlier this year, that pledging conferences were about more than the money raised on the day, as they also provide precious visibility and the chance for different players to improve coordination.

“This is on the verge of being a forgotten crisis, both in terms of public awareness and funding,” said Byman, who just returned from 10 days in Nigeria and Cameroon. In Berlin next month, he said that NRC will be looking for longer-term funding from development donors.

“If we are to build a more stable and resilient society, humanitarian needs must be met, and we must begin a genuine transition into development,” Byman said, adding that “even if Nigeria dwarfs the neighboring countries in terms of economy, population, and power, the needs in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger must not be neglected.”

Vigoda said she is keen to see how invitees including the World Bank, African Development Bank, and Islamic Development Bank are adapting their response to reflect the regional nature of the crisis. She added that another indicator of success will be how much multiyear funding is pledged, giving implementers the security that they can act “in a seamless way and can have support going forward.”

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    Vince Chadwick

    Vince Chadwick is the Brussels Correspondent for Devex. He covers the EU institutions, member states, and European civil society. A law graduate from Melbourne, Australia, he was social affairs reporter for The Age newspaper, before moving to Europe in 2013. He covered breaking news, the arts and public policy across the continent, including as a reporter and editor at POLITICO Europe.