While attention in the United States is focused on the disasters in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, a crisis across the Atlantic is rapidly becoming one of the worst humanitarian disasters since World War II. In the Lake Chad basin of West Africa, about 17 million people are threatened by extreme food insecurity and widespread violence.
An estimated 800,000 children suffer from acute malnutrition; and although international donors pledged $672 million in February, the famine and humanitarian misery continues unabated. Suicide bombings and attacks by Boko Haram, which have killed at least 381 civilians since April 2017, have forced many people to leave their homes and farmers to leave their lands, interrupting livelihoods and reducing food supplies.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres called the crisis in Lake Chad a “large-scale food security and nutrition emergency.” While his recently released report underscores the urgent need for emergency support in the region, some have critiqued its lack of focus on long-term solutions and preventive measures. “In order to tackle this crisis with any kind of sustainability—even in the short run—there needs to be a thorough understanding of what caused it to spiral in the first place,” writes adelphi Managing Director Alexander Carius. “These ongoing emergencies—the hunger, the violence, the breakdown of law and order—aren’t a tragic coincidence. Rather, there is a complex interplay between many factors that create the conditions for such social collapse and suffering. In considering these factors, climate change cannot be ignored, for it exacerbates the worst catalysts of the crisis and fuels the fragility that has inflamed the region.”
A new short film by adelphi investigates the root causes of the crisis in Lake Chad, including the role of climate change, and identifies possible entry points to tackle climate-fragility risks in the region and beyond. In the film, experts from the Lake Chad Basin Commission, the UN Security Council, UNDP, and other peacebuilding organizations offer recommendations for mitigating the climate-fragility risks threatening regional peace and stability:
Youth: “You really have to ensure that they are represented in the political processes,” says Mohamed Yahya, UNDP’s Africa regional programme coordinator, to discourage them from joining terrorist or insurgent groups. Until the “generational gap” is bridged and until the economic outlook for youth is improved, local grievances will persist.
Governance: “One part of the solution or approaches to climate change and fragility is always governance,” says Dan Smith, the director of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). “How are the governments, both the national governments and the provincial governments, working on this? Are they including local people in the solutions as they develop them? Are they working together, are they cooperating?“ He called for greater cooperation and more efforts to bridge gaps between the center and the periphery, pointing to “deeper questions of insecurity and marginalization and lack of opportunity for young people that are part of the explanation of why Boko Haram has grown. So you have to think about what you could call ‘standard economic development’ in that part of Nigeria as a long-term approach.“
Gender: “The roles of men and women are strikingly different from what we perceive as appropriate, or modern or conducive to economic development,” says Hinrich Thölken, Germany’s permanent representative to the Food & Agriculture Organization, World Food Program, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. During a mission to Lake Chad, he observed “that most of the work is done by the women in the camp, even in the fields. Men have no proper job, neither a role in securing food for their families or securing education, so they are just idling. A lot of education and training is needed for the men to make sure that they find themselves a role in the resettlement camp or in the IDP camp, but also to find new livelihoods for their families. Men have to be part of the solution.”
Inclusivity: According to Janani Vivekananda, senior project manager at adelphi, developing solutions requires engaging with all stakeholders, including isolated communities, climate scientists, institutional representatives and others, because these are not just environmental challenges. “It is not just about the water table shrinking… [I]t is more complex than that. And bringing a climate change expert on the table helps us understand what that means from the climate perspective. But also having civil society and institutional representatives helps us understand what this means from a human perspective, what this means from a social and governance perspective.”
Conservation: “The drought that started 22-24 years ago is what has affected the majority of the population in the Lake Chad basin. People, whose livelihood depends on this water, become vulnerable. This is putting pressure on people to move to where is water,”says Mohammed Bila, an expert on the Lake Chad Basin Commission. He stresses the importance of initiating “at the local level, dialogue between resource users, between different ethnic groups” to “share the common resources, the common pool resources, equitably.” More sustainable water management could reduce the region’s vulnerability to water variability and thus reduce pressure on the people who depend on it.
Long-term planning: Alexander Carius, adelphi’s managing director, believes the Lake Chad region provides an ideal setting for conducting a joint risk assessment and analysis of climate-fragility risks. Developing long-term perspectives for the region is key to “help the humanitarian organizations to move ahead from relief to recovery and resilient programmes.”
With one of the world’s lowest development indices, the people of the Lake Chad region have long suffered from this multifaceted crisis. The problem will not be solved quickly, as only persistence and political will can reverse the mismanagement and neglect that has plagued the region. However, much of the pledged funding is still unspent and has not reached the most vulnerable people.
The security challenges and the resources required are daunting. Diplomacy needs to consider the overall picture when planning or supporting interventions in the Lake Chad region. Given the complexity of the situation, we must pay more attention to the roots of the crisis, in order to understand what needs to be done, what to do first, and how the help those that need it the most.
Sources: adelphi, Al Jazeera, Amnesty International, Climate Diplomacy, Environment, Conflict and Cooperation Platform, A New Climate for Peace, Norwegian Refugee Council, United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Security Council