UN Security Council visits the Lake Chad region to call attention to the security and humanitarian crisis in the region. The decision for the Council to visit the region resulted from a briefing on the situation in the region held during the Swedish Presidency. 

Members of the UN Security Council began a five-day visit to the Lake Chad Basin region on Thursday 2 March. The visit aims to enable Council members to see for themselves the security, development and humanitarian situation in the region, where the terrorist group Boko Haram continues an insurgency that has devastated the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians across four countries. The UN Secretary-General and humanitarian leaders recently warned that the situation in north-eastern Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin region is among the world’s four most acute humanitarian crises, together with Syria, Yemen and South Sudan, with the risk of large-scale famine. Some 10.7 million people are in need in the region, of which an estimated 7.1 million people are food insecure at crisis and emergency levels. Some 515 000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition. The Council mission has taken the members to Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. Sweden used its Presidency of the Security Council in January to shine a light on this crisis, which until recently has received little attention. The decision for the Council to visit the region resulted from a briefing on the situation in the region held during the Swedish Presidency. Ambassador Carl Skau is representing Sweden on this visit.

In Cameroon on Friday, Council members met with the President, the Prime Minister and other officials, as well as the UN Country Team. They heard that since 2014, over 200 000 people have been displaced in the Far North region as a result of Boko Haram attacks, which have also left 1.5 million people food insecure. The country also hosts 85 000 Nigerian refugees fleeing Boko Haram. Council members welcomed Cameroon’s commitment to fight Boko Haram and praised Cameroon for hosting refugees, although refugee protection challenges remain. The Council then travelled to the Far North, where they met with local leaders and internally displaced persons (IDPs). Safeguarding children in armed conflict, a Swedish priority, is a real challenge in this region. Mr Skau met with a 14-year-old boy recently released from two and a half years in detention. Local leaders and affected people emphasised the need for further international support to continue the fight against Boko Haram and to address the root causes of the conflict, which include poverty and underdevelopment.

On Saturday, the mission moved to Chad, which is facing a massive humanitarian crisis due to Boko Haram’s activities, as well as widespread food insecurity and hosting refugees from neighbouring countries, such as the Central African Republic. Council members saw how countries in the region are cooperating to combat Boko Haram through a Multinational Joint Taskforce (MNJTF) established by Benin, Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria. The Council heard that although weakened, Boko Haram remains a threat; continued support from donors was therefore requested. The Council also heard from President Padacké and UN representatives about the broader security and development challenges facing Chad, which are intensified and compounded because of Boko Haram. Once again, poverty and underdevelopment were underscored as root causes of conflict. However, as reported by Mr Skau, responding to Boko Haram means less money is available for education and healthcare, leading to further underdevelopment and poverty. Investment is needed to end this negative spiral.

Arriving in Niger on Saturday evening, the Security Council members met with President Issoufou and government ministers. This was followed by meetings on Sunday with humanitarian and development actors from donors, the UN and NGOs. The President highlighted the multiple threats and shocks facing Niger, including geopolitical challenges in the region, as well as economic challenges and the negative effects of climate change. Council members heard that the shrinking of Lake Chad was a major contributor to the conditions that led to rise of Boko Haram, a message also heard in Cameroon. In response, the Council spoke of the importance of addressing the root causes of underdevelopment that underlie much of the instability facing Niger and the region: poverty; education levels; unemployment; the need to promote human rights, including the rights of women and girls; and water shortages. Mr Skau noted the huge challenges facing Niger and underlined the leadership and clear vision of the President in responding to the crisis. Mr Skau also noted that fight against poverty, including the empowerment of women and girls, needs to be supported.

On Sunday afternoon, the Council members flew to Maiduguri, northern Nigeria, where they visited an IDP camp and met with local officials. There are almost 800 000 IDPs in 75 camps in this area. Council members met with two groups of IDPs and with women’s civil society organisations. Mr Skau recounted the terrible stories told by IDP women: of husbands and children abducted and killed. They continue to suffer in the camps through the lack of access to food, water and education for their children. During the visit, Mr Skau underscored that the international community must do more, and that it must translate the generous commitments made at the Oslo humanitarian conference for Nigeria and the Lake Chad region into disbursements to fund the immediate needs of up to four million people. The Council also heard from Fatima Askira, a civil society leader, who had briefed the Council on the situation of women in northern Nigeria during Sweden’s Presidency of the Security Council. The Council also heard from the UN Resident Coordinator and met with the Borno State Governor, who stressed the need for support for IDPs in host communities, as well as those in IDP camps.

The mission concluded on Monday with a round of meetings in Abuja with government representatives, donors, civil society and UN officials. The Council members, who return to New York on Tuesday, will have gained a much better understanding of the region as a result of the mission. While Council members will reflect on the main outcomes from the visit and on next steps, it is clear that this region needs continued support and attention from the international community, including the Security Council. Sweden, through its Council membership, will continue to advocate for more attention to this forgotten crisis.

 

Martin Gallagher

Permanent Mission of Sweden to the United Nations