A new funding appeal for the Lake Chad region is to be launched at an international donors' conference in Oslo on Friday. Two million people have been displaced and many more are trapped in a humanitarian crisis.
The figures are horrifying. The UN says eleven million people are in desperate need of aid and seven million at risk of starvation. The humanitarian situation in northern Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger is "very worrying," says Toby Lanzer the UN humanitarian coordinator for the region.
There was already evidence of a serious crisis in the Lake Chad region in 2016. But UN warnings often go unheeded. "Last year there were many reports about the region, but at the political level the topic was neglected," said Melanie Müller, expert on West Africa at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin. As a consequence, the UN received just $238 million (225 million euros) for its regional aid program. It had asked for twice that amount.
Target : $1.5 billion
The international donors' conference in Oslo on Friday will seek to raise the necessary funds. The meeting has been organized by Germany, Norway, Nigeria and the United Nations. Berlin's foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel is expected to be among the delegates. A spokesman for the German foreign ministry said the aim of the conference was to draw up a package of measures for the region involving "a broad alliance of backers for the humanitarian effort."
The humanitarian crisis in the Lake Chad region is being blamed on the Islamist insurgency, poverty and climate change
A broad alliance would be welcomed by the United Nations. Lanzer said he was hoping for stronger recognition by a broader range of countries "who recognize the gravity of the situation, the scale of the need and who actually join the [humanitarian] effort." Lanzer named Canada, The Netherlands and South Korea as countries he would like to see making a contribution. The UN is asking the international community for a total of $1.5 billion in aid.
More than 2 million displaced
There is a good chance that this aid target could be met. Recent debate about migration to Europe is helping to focus attention on the Lake Chad region, which has been struggling with flows of displaced people for some time. More than two million have been forced from their homes. They are not only fleeing from deadly attacks by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram but also from the counterinsurgency campaigns of the Nigerian military. 90 people were killed at the end of January when the Nigerian air force bombed a refugee camp by mistake. The air strike was supposed to have been directed at Boko Haram.
Most of those who have been displaced are still in their countries of origin. In Nigeria, the number of those internally displaced totals 1.8 million. Others have fled to neighboring countries such as Niger, one of Africa's poorer countries, where 100,000 Nigerians have sought sanctuary, often under catastrophic conditions. "There are limits to the help that poor countries can provide," said Lanzer.
Fear of mass migration to Europe
There is the worry that these refugees could flee to Europe. "I don't find it astonishing that Germany is becoming more engaged in the region," Müller said. "The goal [of German policymakers] is to contribute to the stabilization of the region and thereby help to eliminate the causes of migration." German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Niger last year and pledged the country 17 million euros in aid.
But the people of the Lake Chad region need long-term solutions as well as emergency aid. Germany's foreign ministry has emphasized that the underlying causes of the misery and distress need to be tackled.
The humanitarian crisis is not just a consequence of the Boko Haram insurgency. Climate change and poverty are also to blame. Müller hopes that any new-found engagement in the region won't fade after the conference is over. "The problems cannot be resolved in a one-day conference," she said.