It is the world’s fastest growing displacement crisis, which needs swift and decisive action. Refugees from Boko Haram have converged on the Lake Chad Basin, fleeing from violence into terrible living conditions. 2.6 million people have been displaced in the region, and the pressures are significant: 11 million people are estimated to require some form of humanitarian assistance (with 7 million of these classified as food insecure), hundreds of schools have been closed, and worryingly there are reports of Polio and Lassa Fever outbreaks. The pressures on environment are also severe, as Lake Chad is actually evaporating. The water system, which sustains 30 million people within the region, has been damaged by both human actions and climate change.
So how can the rights and needs of these people be met? Monetary aid – quickly gathered and effectively distributed – is a possible solution. In February 2017, a conference organised by Norway, Germany and Nigeria brought together major donors in Oslo with the intention to raise $1.5 billion for continued humanitarian efforts. However only one third of this target goal, $458 million, was achieved. Furthermore the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation announced last week that $232 million would be needed to tackle just the food insecurity within the Basin. So aid alone cannot help these refugees.
Recently the UN has begun to tackle the subject. In March 2017, representatives of Security Council visited the four Basin countries – Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria and Chad – and concluded that immediate action was required. The UK Ambassador Matthew Rycroft added that ‘neither the military fight against terrorism nor the immediate humanitarian response will solve these protracted crises’. Instead he advocated long-term development: jobs, education, services for displaced people, improved women’s rights, reduced inequality, environmental sustainability and support for human rights. It is certainly a welcome admission that arms and money will not sustainably support the displaced in the Basin, but alternative routes must be developed.
Fortunately the UN has also initiated more decision action. On March 31, it passed a resolution condemning the human rights abuses and terrorism of Boko Haram, while encouraging regional governments to cooperate to provide a military challenge to terrorism, facilitate the flow of aid and close the group’s funding routes. It also encouraged the de-radicalisation and reintegration of Boko Haram members. Another recommendation was that the Secretary-General undergoes a joint visit to the Lake Chad Basin region with the Chairperson of the AU Commission, the President of the World Bank Group and the President of the African Development Bank.
The resolution was well received by the Basin governments: Cameroon’s ambassador to the UN, Tommo Monthe, described it as a “step change in mobilizing international support for countries to combat Boko Haram”. The UN certainly has displayed some promising signs here, by engaging with regional players and planning clear further steps. But it will be crucial that the UN continues to guide these recommendations, or empty words will do little to help the displaced.
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