Tackling the crisis in the Lake Chad Basin

by and

Last May, the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (USCFR) organized a briefing session on the situation in the Sahel.

Among the invited participants, UNDP stressed the need for broad and concerted action to confront the surge in violent extremism and bring development-based solutions to the region affected by the Boko Haram insurgency that originated in Nigeria’s northeast seven years ago.

We identified an “arc of instability” that stretches across the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, and the Lake Chad Basin.

As UNDP and its partners gather in Oslo for the International Humanitarian Conference on 24 February, we intend to focus on the situation in Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin with heightened urgency.

As a practical, field-based knowledge organization,  UNDP firmly believes that an all-encompassing response is the best way to solve the crises at hand, tailored to each country's specific needs.

Viable solutions must first be informed by the recognition of the historical role played by the Lake Chad Basin as a centuries old hub along the Sahel trade routes linking the Atlantic seaboard to the Red Sea.

Observers readily admit this crisis has been egregiously overlooked.  Its consequences could affect the security, economic, environmental, and institutional integrity of Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad.

Boko Haram has already claimed more than 35,000 lives and caused the displacement of 1.8 million people from Northeastern Nigeria.

Over 10.7 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, and famine is said to have affected 65,000 people. This figure which could rise to 120,000 by mid-year.

In Cameroon, 200 000 people were forced to flee their homes and close to 3 million people are expected to need humanitarian assistance this year.

Compounding these factors is the environmental tragedy of Lake Chad. Due climate change and high for water, the lake has shrunk to a twentieth of its size in 1963. The result is degraded ecosystems, water shortages, crop failures, livestock deaths, collapsed fisheries, increased soil salinity and, as a result, increased poverty.

UNDP, its fellow UN organizations and humanitarian agencies on the ground are at the forefront of the response and have stepped up their coordination.

They have collectively provided effective and coordinated recovery assistance to the government and population in the northeastern quadrant of Nigeria, notably in the epicenter of the crisis in the town of Maiduguri, Borno Sate.

The Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), established by the Lake Chad Basin countries to combat Boko Haram, has managed to significantly curtail the capabilities of the militant group. Nevertheless the group’s attacks remain persistent and its tactical sophistication has increased.

As we prepare to meet in Oslo, cynics might be tempted to say that this is just another humanitarian conference. This time, however, a business-as-usual approach will not do.

The Lake Basin Crisis brings into sharp focus the outcome of years of missed development opportunities in a key region whose historic economic model was subverted during the colonial period.

For that reason, we must guard against limiting our response to immediate humanitarian concerns only.

Likewise, if we only pay attention to the security dimension of the crisis, we will overlook the root causes of the region’s troubles.

Humanitarian actors must be mindful of the growing concerns raised by the securitization of aid. Some partners feel this focus on combating extremism comes at the expense of other dimensions of development, heavy on conditionality and light on long-term solutions.   

No single organization is big enough to tackle the multidimensional crisis in the Lake Chad basin alone. We need a multi-stakeholder response, drawing on our collective expertise in political engagement, earl recovery, socio-economic development, law enforcement and conservation.

UNDP for its part stands ready to work with all actors to bring about this vision. 

This article first appeared in the Financial Times' This is Africa magazine.

Blog post Articles Disaster recovery Sustainable Development Goals Africa Nigeria Chad Cameroon Niger Central African Republic Migration and displacement Jobs and livelihoods Prevention of violent extremism Poverty reduction and inequality Climate change and disaster risk reduction Abdoulaye Mar Dieye

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