Conflict and climate change have plunged the Lake Chad region into one of the world's worst humanitarian crises. An international conference in Berlin aims to raise more support for the millions of people in need of aid.
Speaking at the opening of the Berlin conference, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that the situation in the Lake Chad region had improved in recent months. "There is real hope that the vicious circle of poverty, displacement, radicalization and terror can be stopped," Maas said. Joint efforts by all governments in the region had been a "game changer" and had helped to reduce the areas controlled by Boko Haram from a territory the size of Belgium to some few isolated patches of land, the minister added.
The high-level meeting on the Lake Chad region, jointly organized by Germany, Norway, Nigeria and the United Nations, comes roughly one and a half years after a donor conference in Oslo that raised more than $672 million(€580 million) in humanitarian assistance for the region. Maas said that the commitment by donors had made an important contribution to preventing famine in the area and assisting people affected by the crisis, but noted that more efforts needed to be taken to ensure that the region did not slip back into more serious conflict.
Lake Chad has shrunk to roughly one-tenth of its size in the past half century
"It's important that the meeting in Berlin sends a clear signal: We are going to stay on track. We are going to stay together to make sure that the Lake Chad region does not become a hub for terrorism, crime and human trafficking," Maas said. Germany was ready to invest in the security and stability of the countries in the region, the minister added, while pledging an extra €100 million in assistance to the countries in the region.
UN says funding needed
Conflicts, particularly a violent insurgency by the Islamist Boko Haram militia that spread from Nigeria to the other countries, have led to large-scale displacement, with famine further exacerbating the crisis in the region. According to the UN, more than 10 million people in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection this year. The conflict has driven some 2.4 million people from their homes.
Despite receiving some 90 percent of the $672 million pledged at the meeting in Oslo, the UN is facing a shortfall in funding, making it harder to assist all those in need. "In practical terms, it often means cutting food rations, shutting down schools in camps, simply not being able to reach people,"Achim Steiner, head of the UN Development Program (UNDP), told DW in an interview on the sidelines of the Berlin conference. If we are not careful and funding does not come through for the next annual cycle, then it means essentially withdrawing our support, leaving people in an extremely difficult situation.
The UN has reportedly called for more than $1.5 billion to help people in the region, with only about half of the amount received so far.
Government representatives warned of the dramatic social and economic effects of the crisis on their populations in the affected regions. The violence had driven tourists away and destroyed entire economic sectors such as agriculture, Cameroon's minister delegate in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Felix Mbayu, told the audience at the Berlin meeting. Some 230,000 people in Cameroon's northeast had so far not been able to return home, Mbayu said. He called for a fund that would assist the victims of the crisis and help to re-integrate former Boko Haram fighters. "Our prisons are full of former Boko Haram members. These people also need to be educated and get new perspectives," he said.
Affected countries call for long-term solutions
"Our population lost its sources of livelihood through the crisis, which means it is even more endangered than before," Laouan Magagi, Niger's Minister of Humanitarian Action and Disaster Management said at the Berlin meeting. Nigeria's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Khadija Bukar Abba-Ibrahim called for more long-term measures to avoid a flare-up of the crisis in the future. "Capacity building and restoration of livelihoods through facilitation of occupational opportunities, job-creation, skill-acquisition and others are central to find lasting solutions to the challenges of the region," she told the conference. The two-day meeting is set to close on Tuesday.