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Nigeria Humanitarian Response Strategy 2019-2021 (January 2019 - December 2021) (December 2018)

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Overview of the Crisis

In 2019, 7.1 million people (2.3 million girls, 1.9 million boys, 1.6 million women and 1.3 million men) are in need of humanitarian assistance in north-east Nigeria as a result of a crisis that is now in its tenth year. The crisis, which is fundamentally a protection of civilians crisis, has largely been triggered by an ongoing regionalized armed conflict, characterized by massive and widespread abuse against civilians including killings, rape and other sexual violence, abduction, child recruitment, burning of homes, pillaging, forced displacement, arbitrary detention, and the use of explosive hazards, including in deliberate attacks on civilian targets.

Today 1.8 million people are internally displaced, and new displacement continues due to insecurity. The crisis has impacted women, men, girls and boys, and people with special needs differently, and their vulnerabilities as well as coping mechanisms vary. Women and girls have been targeted with rape, abduction, to serve as “sex slaves”, and also conscripted into a broad spectrum of roles including serving as spies and human beings forced to carry person-borne improvised explosive devices (PBIED). Men and boys have been mainly targeted for recruitment and are at higher risk of being killed at battle fronts or being arbitrarily detained. While the humanitarian community provided life-saving assistance to over 5.5 million affected people (1.4 million women, 950,000 men, 1.8 million girls and 1.4 million boys) in 2018 and helped stabilise living conditions for millions of affected people, significant humanitarian needs remain as the conflict continues. At present, it is estimated that more than 800,000 people are still in areas that are inaccessible to international humanitarian actors.

Violence in a Protection Crisis

In 2018, the conflict continued, with a scale up of the Nigerian Armed Forces counter-insurgency campaign in collaboration with the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF).

Major military operations and offensives were launched in areas across Borno and Yobe states, with active hostilities extending throughout the rainy season – a dynamic that was different from previous years. Non-State Armed Group (NSAG) activity also increased in the latter half of 2018, with a series of significant and deadly attacks against Nigerian Armed Forces in areas such as Gudumbali town in Guzamala LGA – a change of tactic that may be linked to leadership struggles within the factions. Further, while Borno State remains the epicenter of the crisis, Adamawa State also experienced significant levels of inter-communal violence with reports of over 100 communities affected1. The scale of the offensive from the Nigerian Armed Forces and change in tactics by NSAGs has increased protection concerns for women and girls, including sexual and physical violence as well as abduction by NSAGs. For men and boys, the fear of being abducted and conscripted to join NSAGs still looms large, while arbitrary detention in military screening sites is also an ongoing concern.

As these conditions of violence and insecurity persist, civilians continue to bear the brunt of a conflict that has led to widespread forced displacement, abuse, violations of basic human rights and destruction of civilian property. Since 2009, more than 27,0002 people have been killed and hundreds of women and girls abducted. In 2017, 1463 children (mainly girls) were forced to carry PBIEDs, and from January to end of September 2018, 46 children were used in attacks. There are regular reports of extra-judicial killings, use of torture, arbitrary arrests and detention, enforced disappearances, rape and other forms of sexual violence, and targeting of IDP camps where civilians sought refuge, for example during the January and October attacks on IDP camps in Dalori, Borno State. Further, destruction of civilian infrastructure and assets has been severe, with an estimated infrastructure damage of US$ 9.2 billion and accumulated output losses of US$ 8.3 billion. Borno State has been the hardest hit by far.4

High levels of displacement, including secondary and tertiary displacement, have been witnessed to major centres, including from inaccessible areas, with the majority of new arrivals in dire conditions and in need of urgent, life-saving humanitarian assistance and protection interventions. Those who flee inaccessible areas report being held for years in hostage-like situations by NSAGs with no access to basic services and suffering abuse. The situation in these areas is reportedly more severe this year with NSAGs looting food from civilians on a much larger scale and leaving them with extremely limited resources to survive. Civilians who fled these areas report needing to escape at night for fear of being recaptured, while leaving all belongings and family members, including the elderly, behind. Ten per cent of displaced households in northern Borno State report having separated or unaccompanied children, while 48 per cent of female-headed households report no legal documentation.5

"Everybody that is sane would want to escape." - Respondent during a REACH Focus Group Discussion

Freedom of movement in areas considered accessible is also heavily restricted, including in and out of camps.6 This greatly impacts the communities’ ability to engage in livelihoods, undermining opportunities to support self-reliance and durable solutions to displacement. It also restricts people’s access to basic services. The restrictions on freedom of movement, in addition to congestion in camps, heighten the risk, especially for women and girls, of sexual exploitation and abuse, by those authorities or other groups controlling access to the camps.

In addition to widespread violations of International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law against affected people, the humanitarian community has also come under threat. Two female humanitarian aid workers were tragically executed by NSAGs in September and October 2018 after being abducted on 1 March 2018. Four male aid workers were also killed this year. A female aid worker (a nurse) is still being held by NSAGs after having been abducted on 1 March in Rann, Borno State. These events shocked the humanitarian community and resulted in global condemnation and continued calls for the immediate release of the nurse and the remaining schoolgirl abducted from Dapchi, Yobe State. These incidents - which constitute crimes under international law - also underscore the increased level of risk and threats to aid workers in the north-east, and especially in Borno State, and the inevitable consequences on their ability to stay and deliver.


New waves of displacement in 2018 added to the already high numbers of people in north-east Nigeria who have fled their homes. Today 1.8 million7 people (440,000 women, 364,000 men, 614,000 girls and 516,000 boys) are internally displaced, with 94 per cent of the displacement attributed to ongoing conflict and over 80 per cent of displaced people in Borno State. A decade into the crisis, the protracted nature of displacement has eroded coping mechanisms, significantly weakened resilience, and heightened vulnerabilities.

2018 saw additional displacement of thousands of people every month, many coming from inaccessible areas to main centres and in an extremely vulnerable state. Over the first eleven months of 2018, nearly 214,000 individuals, mainly women and children, were displaced, with a weekly average of 4,500 individuals. Prior to this, the weekly average was 1,400.8 Despite humanitarian resources already being overstretched as a result of overcrowding in the camps, tens of thousands of new arrivals passed through reception centres and accessed multi-sector humanitarian assistance through the Reception Management Strategy9 , including food assistance, health screenings and protection services. Others were reached in the camps and host communities as part of regular aid delivery activities. Further, displacement patterns were also seen throughout the year into smaller towns, including along the Monguno-axis10, where presence of humanitarian workers was typically low. As such, a rapid scale-up in the response proved to be difficult in these areas outside of main centres, especially in light of the challenging security situation.

"The main reason for wanting to return is to go back to farms and a source of livelihood." – Respondent during a REACH Focus Group Discussion in Pulka

Since August 2015, 1.6 million11 people (378,000 women, 348,000 men, 510,000 girls and 404,000 boys) have returned12 to or closer to their homes and attempted to begin to rebuild their lives, indicating that conditions in some locations have improved to a relative extent. Adamawa State has seen the highest number of returns at over 750,000, and Borno State over 650,00013. While government-facilitated returns also started, including in coordination with military efforts underpinned by Operation ‘Last Hold,’ concerns remain that many areas are not yet conducive for safe and sustainable returns due to insecurity and a lack of access to basic services and infrastructure. This is corroborated by the vast majority of displaced households reporting no active plans to return, citing insecurity and lack of access to services such as food, health and education as main reasons.14 Further, more than 226,00015 Nigerian refugees remain in Cameroon (97,000), Chad (10,000) and Niger (119,000); 35,701 returned in 2018, though in many cases in circumstances that were not voluntary and not to their homes (secondary or tertiary displacement).
Any IDP or refugee returns must be voluntary and carried out in safety and in dignity, and coupled with a scale-up of early recovery and resilience activities that support durable solutions. The Tripartite Agreement between UNHCR, Nigeria and Cameroon, signed in March 2017, also requires further operationalisation.

Vulnerable Groups

The majority of crisis-affected people have experienced violence, repeated displacement, loss of or separation from family members, loss and destruction of property, deterioration of living conditions, disruption of livelihoods, accumulated stress and weakened resilience. Particularly vulnerable groups that suffer the most and whose vulnerabilities are the highest include children, the elderly, female-headed households (FHH), particularly adolescent FHH, who are forced into a role as breadwinners, and people with disabilities as they are less able to fend for themselves and less likely to access services without assistance. Pre-existing gender inequalities due to unequal access to opportunities have contributed to limited resources and skills among women and girls, which have increased their vulnerability and exposure to abuse, including sexual exploitation. Those in inaccessible areas lack access to food, supplies and services, are at high risk of abuses, and are not able to engage in their normal livelihoods such as farming and trade due to limited movement associated with insecurity.

Threats of attacks, ongoing hostilities, lack of safety assurances by NSAGs, explosive hazards and restrictions on movements in active conflict zones hinder humanitarian actors’16 ability to conduct thorough assessments of the estimated 823,000 people who remain in inaccessible areas. Recent proxy analysis and conditions of new arrivals coming from these areas suggest that people in inaccessible areas are experiencing extremely high levels of needs, including food, nutrition and health. Nutrition screenings in reception centres for new arrivals reveal that the nutrition situation of children coming from inaccessible areas is significantly worse than that of children in areas currently receiving assistance. This analysis is corroborated by reports from new arrivals and data collected remotely that show that the majority of assessed settlements did not receive any humanitarian assistance in the past six months.17

The situation facing women and girls is particularly dire. Violence against women and girls, including sexual violence, and exposure to trafficking and abduction is widespread but underreported. Some 99 per cent of reported GBV incidents in the first half of 2018 were made by women and girls.18 Of the women and girls who were forced and abducted from their homes by NSAGs, many are raped, forced into marriage and labour, abused physically, sexually and/or emotionally, exposed to sexually transmitted diseases, and often impregnated by their captors.19 Anecdotal reports indicate that in addition to the everyday struggles faced by women and girls, they are often forced into survival sex in exchange for food, movement and items to meet their basic needs. Further, at least 49,500 girls and boys have been exposed to recruitment by armed groups and other grave child rights violations.

IDP and refugee returnees also face specific challenges, including difficulties in accessing housing, land and property; family separation; and community tensions due to perceived affiliations with parties to the conflict.

Key Humanitarian Needs

A reduction in the number of people in need in 2019 at a time of ongoing conflict and new displacements must be understood within a context of bolstered and sustained humanitarian assistance and service delivery that has helped to stabilize many communities. Maintaining humanitarian support is therefore critical to ensure that the situation does not deteriorate and people do not slip back into crisis.

An estimated 1.7 million people in the BAY states are currently estimated to be food insecure and considered to be facing crisis or emergency situations (CH Phase 3 or 4)20. As part of the lean season period, during June to August 2019, 2.7 million people are projected to be food insecure21. Despite improvements in 2018, the food security and nutrition situation remains fragile in the north-east. In Borno State, many affected populations remain dependent on assistance to meet their basic food needs – a situation stemming from ongoing hostilities and insecurity. Security perimeters in ‘garrison’22 towns and restricted freedom of movement impact the communities’ ability to engage in livelihood and income generating activities, with 39 per cent23 of IDP households in Borno State reportedly not having access to land. The security situation also impacts access to fuel and energy for cooking food, with 85 per cent of women and girls interviewed during a joint assessment reporting heightened protection risks when collecting firewood.24

In many areas across Borno State, market and trade routes continue to be disrupted as a result of insecurity and impassable roads during the rainy season. These, and other existing bans on fish trade and restrictions on purchasing fertilizers, impact trade flows and activities. In Yobe and Adamawa states, an improved security situation has enabled a resumption of agricultural and livestock livelihood activities as well as functional markets with durable supply chains.25 However, pockets of insecurity remain, including in central Adamawa State where inter-communal violence is worsening. Other dynamics impacting the situation include flooding, which has destroyed crops and may negatively influence the harvest.26

The nutrition situation has steadily deteriorated throughout the crisis, with 2.7 million children and women in need of immediate nutrition services. Global acute malnutrition (GAM) in children aged 6-59 months remains highly concerning, with over one million children having malnutrition rates exceeding the WHO threshold of 10 per cent.27 In this, an estimated 368,00 children suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) and 727,000 from moderate acute malnutrition (MAM), with extremely worrying rates of new arrivals from inaccessible areas at 34 per cent SAM and 55 per cent MAM.28 One in every five of these children with SAM and one in every 15 of these children with MAM are at risk of death if their malnutrition remains untreated. Despite a scale up of nutrition interventions in 2018, the ongoing conflict continues to have a direct impact on people’s nutrition status which is further exacerbated by weak health infrastructures, poor infant and young child feeding practices, limited access to safe water and sanitation services, poor hygiene conditions and food insecurity.

Two thirds of health facilities have been damaged by the conflict – a clear indication of the impact of the crisis on the health system. The north-east remains highly endemic for diseases, including diarrhea, due to a variety of issues including limited access to essential health care, vulnerabilities related to displacement and congested living conditions. The situation is further exacerbated by unsafe water, inadequate hygiene and sanitation services linked to long-term structural deficiencies, as well as a general weakening of resilience in affected communities. Women and children in particular are left increasingly susceptible to disease outbreaks, including cholera. In 2018, cholera outbreaks affected 18 LGAs in the BAY states with a total of 10,571 cases. In addition, 1.5 million people are considered at risk and require cholera prevention interventions.

With such high levels of displacement in 2018, more than 40 IDP sites across 12 LGAs in Borno State are in ‘high congestion’ status resulting in many individuals having no access to shelter and forced to sleep in overcrowded spaces or outside. This leaves vulnerable groups not only more susceptible to disease, but also at heightened risk of protection concerns. Further, over 60 per cent of displaced persons are living in host communities, making it harder to reach them with assistance and putting additional pressure on the already stretched resources of these communities.

The impact of the crisis on the education system has also been severe, leaving generations of children without opportunities to learn and even more vulnerable. Since the conflict erupted in 2009, 611 teachers have been killed, 19,000 teachers displaced, 910 schools damaged or destroyed, and more than 1,500 schools forced to close. As a result, an estimated 900,000 children have lost access to learning while 75 per cent of children in camps do not attend school.29 70 per cent of girls of primary school age are out of school in Borno State - the highest percentage in the country. Of those who do attend, 72 per cent are unable to read upon completion of grade six, while Borno State has the lowest literacy rates at only 35 per cent of female and 46 per cent of male adolescents.30

The cumulative impacts of such violent experiences and stresses have weakened communities’ resilience and coping mechanisms, and as a result more than 2 million girls, boys and caregivers require psychosocial support services. If left unaddressed, such traumas will have serious impacts on health and wellbeing, and could result in the emergence of new patterns of violence.

Underlying Causes

While the government response to the crisis in the north-east has primarily been a nationally-based security and humanitarian response, there is recognition that radicalization of NSAGs stems from deep-rooted issues of marginalization and socioeconomic and political grievances. Prior to 2009, north-east Nigeria was plagued with high levels of poverty, inequalities, including gender, underdevelopment, unemployment, poor governance, political marginalization, weak justice systems and ecological degradation.

In 2018, Nigeria overtook India as the country with the largest number of extreme poor. At the end of May 2018, research suggests that Nigeria had about 87 million people in extreme poverty, compared with India’s 73 million. What is more, extreme poverty in Nigeria is growing by six people every minute, while poverty in India continues to fall31. In addition, Nigeria ranks 152 out of 187 in the Human Development Index (HDI), which is well below the average for sub-Saharan Africa.32 Historically, there has been a lack of development and investment initiatives in the north-east compared to other areas in Nigeria, including with education and health institutions, which perpetuates cycles of deprivation and further erodes social and economic structures.33

Demographic dynamics also remain a challenge with a large portion of the population being young (15 – 34 years of age), and the rate of unemployment higher in the north-east, especially among women. In 2017, while the national youth unemployment rate was 19 per cent, it was 37 per cent and 28 per cent in Yobe and Borno states respectively.34 The lack of employment and livelihood opportunities is a major cause of frustration and discontent with government – factors which compound social polarization and openness to radicalization.35 Significant gender gaps also exist, with women and girls in the north-east exposed to higher inequality across all sectors and greater risks, which further exacerbates existing gender inequalities and power relations that disadvantage them. The maternal mortality rate in the north-east is the highest in the country and almost 10 times higher than the rate in the country’s south-western zone,36 while the child mortality rate is the highest in the country and among the worst in the world.37

These dynamics underline the importance of ensuring strong collaborative efforts between humanitarian, development and peace actors for collective outcomes towards resilience. In 2019, while there has been a decline in the number of people who need life-saving humanitarian assistance, there is simultaneously an increase of people who require longerterm development support. While the Government of Nigeria has the primary responsibility to address these underlying structural constraints, the extent and scale of humanitarian needs and the complexity of humanitarian operations are currently higher than the response capacity.

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