Since the Boko Haram attacks intensified in 2013, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced across the region. These populations are now refugees in Chad, Niger and Cameroon. Humanitarian aid has been slow in arriving as it is difficult to localize displaced people, assess their needs and intervene in safe conditions.
An alarming situation
In Niger, the 1,500 inhabitants of Chetmari village have hosted 2,500 displaced persons from Nigeria and have been sharing the few provisions and resources they have. Among the displaced populations, there are elderly people, children, pregnant women, infants, and nursing mothers. Ibrahim, the village leader, spoke to ACTED teams about the difficulties experienced during the lean season: “our stock levels are extremely low and we are thousands more than usual”. Moreover, the entire economy of host communities has been disrupted by border shutdowns and the markets are poorly supplied. The displaced women of Chetmari claim their only source of food or xhatever the host communities give them. The Village leader also spoke about the depleted well but still chooses to share all available resources with refugees. “Today, these are the people that are seeking refuge in our villages, but tomorrow, it could be our turn. This is our reality today in Diffa.”
Chetmari village is unfortunately not an exception in the region. Indeed, 53% of populations living in areas affected by population movements in Niger are at risk of food insecurity. Among displaced persons, 63% have insufficient access to food in the region of Diffa and 43% have insufficient access to water. Women and children represent 70% of the 100,000 refugees and returnees in the south of Niger.
Beyond these figures, as impressive as they are, it is the individual stories that are shocking. Indeed, some children cross the borders by themselves, without parents, or adults to support them on their way. They are left without care, support or protection. In Chad, in Baga Sola, Simon, a young boy, spoke about his escape from his pillaged and burned village in Nigeria across the lake to reach the security of the refugee camp of Dares Salam. The child had no choice but to escape. Simon wanted to tell his story to ACTED teams to also tell the world about what is happening in Nigeria.
The humanitarian response
NGOs like ACTED are assisting the most vulnerable populations by distributing food and goods, by providing health and protection services, by building latrines and reinforcing access to water, with the support of the UNHCR, host governments, and thanks to the solidarity of the international community and donor support. ACTED has implemented an information management system in Diffa to coordinate humanitarian action. In host communities, ACTED ensures access to water and sanitation and develops income generating activities. The implementation of refugee camps in the region of Diffa (50 km from the border) is also ongoing.
Despite everything, insecurity seriously hampers humanitarian efforts to access populations in need. Humanitarian actors are finding themselves racing against time to save lives.
A Regional Response Plan for Nigeria’s Refugees
The inter-agency response plan to Nigeria’s refugees for 2015 was launched in Dakar by the UNHCR Regional Director in Western Africa and by Emilie Poisson, ACTED’s regional director in Africa, alongside WFP and UNICEF’s regional directors, Sahel’s humanitarian coordinator, IEDA Relief’s Director, all present to co-chair the launch.
This launch was the opportunity for ACTED to testify on behalf of affected populations, that the teams work with on a daily basis in refugee host communities, in Diffa in Niger and around Lake Chad. ACTED teams are at the heart of crisis affected areas and are witness to the dramatic situation in which populations find themselves today. ACTED reiterates the importance of taking concrete measures to avoid a new humanitarian crisis. The inter-agency response plan to Nigeria’s refugees is a step forward in that direction clearly highlighting needs and appropriate responses. The time has come for action.
Due to a lack of sustainable and secure access to populations, information is incoherent and inconsistent while access to information is an essential element to evaluate, understand, anticipate and address needs. Measures are therefore required to ensure that humanitarian organizations are able to provide assistance to vulnerable populations and to make sure that lives are saved.