The Lake Chad Basin crisis is now at a turning point. Boko Haram’s attacks and military counter-offensives have displaced at least 2.3 million people.
The Lake Chad Basin is grappling with a humanitarian emergency affecting some 17 million people across north-eastern Nigeria, northern Cameroon, western Chad and Niger. Many of those affected have had to flee their homes. The majority of the displaced are sheltered by communities who are themselves among the world’s most vulnerable.
The Lake Chad Basin crisis was until recently one of the fastest growing refugee crises in Africa and it is becoming the most acute food and nutritional crisis in Africa. It is the fourth biggest humanitarian response for United Nations (UN) and non-governmental organisations in 2017.
Toby Lanzer, the assistant Secretary-General to the UN, spoke to DW ahead of the Oslo Humanitarian Conference on Nigeria and the Lake Chad Region at the end of February.
DW: How is the humanitarian situation in the Lake Chad region?
Toby Lanzer: The situation continues to be very grave. I think over the past few months we have understood more fully what is happening thanks to an improved security situation which has enabled the United Nations and its partners to travel further afield from the main town, Maiduguri, and get a stronger appreciation from the people themselves who have been stuck in many villages and towns. But we know that there are millions of people in desperate need of humanitarian assistance and we are doing our utmost together with the international community to meet the needs.
Has the response from foreign governments been adequate?
Well, adequate is a difficult word to use. And I think there are so many crises in different parts of the world. I think that via DW and others we are hoping to get the word out. That there is a particularly grave crisis the numbers are huge 10 million in need, 7 million who are severely food insecure, and 515,000 children who are acutely malnourished. I don’t think any single government on earth in the world could face that alone.
International solidarity is required. And that is required at a time when pressures are high all over the globe and so, no, the response is inadequate at the moment but am hopeful that in coming weeks more countries will come on board and help the UN and NGOs to work with the communities and the authorities of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and of course of Nigeria, to meet the needs.
What support do you want from the German government?
I think Germany has really come on board as a very strong supporter in political terms and the chancellor herself has been to Niger one of the key countries in this region. I think that political support usually signals financial support which I understand will be on its way. And at the end of the day, that’s actually what people need because the money will be translated into medicines, food, shelter, and all the other things that people who are in desperate need require on a day to day basis to weather this terrible storm that’s afflicted them.
What is your wish as far as the donor's conference is concerned?
There will be a conference thanks to Germany, Nigeria and Norway, and with support of the UN, the international community will gather in Oslo Norway on the February 24. I think my wish there is really a stronger recognition by a broader range of countries including Canada, the Netherlands, and Korea. Let's say a broader range of countries who recognize the gravity of the situation and the scale of the need and that that they actually join the effort of countries such as Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Commission and the UN in meeting peoples various serious need to survive this violence perpetrated by Boko Haram, which comes on top of abject poverty, climate change and real challenges which have wrecked peoples lives and made it so very difficult for them.
What could the governments of the countries located in the Lake Chad region do?
We are hopeful that, whether it’s Cameroon, Chad, Niger or Nigeria, they will continue to do what they have been which is to do that utmost to care for their own people. But there are limits to what poor countries can do. And you know on that note so many people look at me and say " isn’t Nigeria a rich country?" Well it is and it is not. At the moment oil production has plummeted. Oil prices are low so it’s a very trying moment for Nigeria to do everything that it would like to for its own people. But let's congratulate the government of Nigeria and others in the region for having facilitated the work of the aid agencies. For having made sure that we feel welcome, for making sure that we are safe. This is a difficult part oft the world to be operating in. Violent extremists are not particularly easy by any means when it comes to the populations of the region, but also aid agencies. So the governments really have been very forthcoming trying to do as much as they possibly can, but also welcoming the international communities support in this time of severe crisis.
Toby Lanzer is the assistant-Secretary General to the United Nations and Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel region.
Interview: Daniel Pelz