Violence In Northeast Nigeria: Aid Workers Targeted, And 65,000 Civilians Flee

United Nations News reported on 16th April 2021 that up to 65,000 Nigerians are fleeing violence after a series of attacks in Damasak town in Borno State of Northeast Nigeria. From this incident, the UN Refugee Agency spokesperson (UNHCR), Babar Baloch, stated that “eight people were killed, and a dozen injured.” Further, there have been several incidents in Damasak town since 11th April 2021. The spokesperson for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Jens Laerke, stated that “Humanitarian assets have been targeted, including the destruction of at least five NGO offices and several NGO vehicles, a mobile storage unit, water tanks, a health outpost and a nutrition stabilization centre.”


Furthermore, Non-state armed actors have been “conducting house-to-house searches, reportedly looking for civilians identified as aid workers,” according to OCHA spokesperson. UN News reports that these violent attacks targeting humanitarian aids affect the people in Northeast Nigeria as humanitarian support is provided for about 9,000 internally displaced people and 76,000 people in the community. OCHA spokesperson also mentioned that the victims of violence fleeing Damasak seek refuge in the neighbouring region of Diffa, Niger.


Moreover, recently there have been repeated attacks in the Damasak region. The spokesperson for OCHA stated that humanitarian assets as aforementioned were targeted on the 10th and 11th of April. Then, on the 13th and 14th of April, further attacks have occurred. UNHCR spokesperson Mr. Baloch has stated that “up to 80 percent of the town’s population-which includes the local community and internally displaced people as well- had been forced to flee”. Further, Mr. Baloch accentuated the negative impact of these violent attacks by stating, “assailants looted and burned down private homes, warehouses of humanitarian agencies, a police station, a clinic and UNHCR facility.”


The violence in Northeast Nigeria roots from years of insurgency in this region and has resulted in a humanitarian emergency at large proportions in the Lake Chad Basin region. Lake Chad is one of Africa’s largest freshwater sources and contributes to the livelihood of farmers and community members. Lake Chad is geographically located in Northern Central Africa and borders Chad, Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon countries. The Lake Chad Basin is an area that covers seven countries, including Algeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Libya, Niger and Nigeria.


The crisis in the Lake Chad region is related to how Lake Chad has diminished by 90% since the 1960s, resulting in a conflict between herders and farmers due to the limited availability of natural resources and loss of livelihoods. A UN magazine called the Africa Renewal reports that national governments of affected countries have formed a multinational task force (troops from Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, Chad and Benin) to initiate military attacks against terrorists. At the same time, the governments of these affected nations are finding a sustainable solution to the drying of Lake Chad. Such a long-term solution is necessary as 80-90% of people’s livelihoods in the Lake Chad region depend on agriculture, livestock, and fisheries; hence strongly depended on the Lake Chad water source.


Furthermore, the Brookings Institution in 2020 mentioned the involvement of Boko Haram with the prolonged conflict in Northeast Nigeria. The Global Conflict Tracker reports that Boko Haram is one of the largest Islamist militant groups in Africa and has caused terrorist attacks targeting religious and political groups, police, the military and civilians. The article by the Brookings Institution stated that “since 2009, Boko Haram has caused devastating insecurity, impoverishment, displacement, and other suffering in Nigeria’s poor and arid North East region”. The same article reports that the Nigerian government and the military were mobilized against Boko Haram from 2015 to 2018. However, violence has increased since 2018. Also, the article highlights the need to develop effective policy responses for this crisis and how this requires understanding the multi-faceted nature of this situation. According to the article by the Brookings Institution, this requires knowledge and understanding of security issues, the impact of militias in Nigeria, human rights issues, the political and economic climate of the situation.


In 2020, Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF) reported that the violence around the Lake Chad region had displaced approximately 2.5 million people, and thousands of civilians have experienced violence, abuse and violations. MSF also states that more than 37,500 people have been killed from May 2011 to 31st July 2020 in the Lake Chad Basin conflict. MSF further reports that in the Lake Chad Basin region, around 17 million people are experiencing a complex crisis propelled by severe poverty, violence and climate change. Hence, more than 10 million people need humanitarian aid. However, due to a lack of security and access, humanitarian aid provision is deprived in this region. According to the MSF, the situation in the Lake Chad Basin region is worsened with epidemics and infectious disease outbreaks such as cholera, malaria, and hepatitis E.


There have been several initiatives and humanitarian responses to mitigate the developing humanitarian aid crisis in the Lake Chad Basin region. UN News reported on 3rd September 2018 that for emergency assistance programs in 2017 and beyond, donors had pledged over $650 million. This has helped more than six million people and has helped in preventing a famine in Northeast Nigeria. Even though there are humanitarian aid funds and donations, the donations are insufficient to meet the critical needs of the crisis. The UN News report also highlighted that the key to solving the humanitarian crisis in Lake Chad Basin addresses the underlying cause while simultaneously providing life-saving humanitarian aid. Echoing on the takeaways from the UN News report, the need for sustainable, long-lasting and large-scale development assistance is necessary for stabilization. UNICEF Nigeria also mentions that to help mitigate the consequences of the Lake Chad crisis, UNICEF Nigeria supports several initiatives, such as establishing mobile healthcare teams in Borno State to provide nutrition services.


Long-term conflict and violence should be addressed by promoting peace treaties and agreements among involved parties. Such measures will directly promote security and protection for civilians and humanitarian aid workers. Also, in turn, this will then reduce the need for humanitarian aid; and violent situations will not develop rapidly to large-scale humanitarian emergencies. To address long-term conflict, effective policy responses should be initiated, and address system changes. By changing the roots of the problem through policy responses and non-violent solutions, a significant humanitarian crisis can be mitigated and/or prevented. Peace agreements and treaties should also be promoted, violence and aggressive efforts should be condemned, and humanitarian aid should be strengthened. Innocent civilians and humanitarian aid workers will not have to be victims of prolonged conflict.


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