The protracted conflict in the Lake Chad Basin has cut off millions of women and men from their livelihoods, making them entirely dependent on humanitarian assistance to survive. Much emphasis has been given to the stabilization agenda, with a focus on securitization. However, Oxfam’s research in late 2017 showed that early recovery and livelihoods development are much needed and should be prioritized to promote resilience among crisis-affected communities, to reduce dependency on humanitarian aid, and ultimately to promote sustainable peace.
After nine years of conflict in north-east Nigeria, 4.5 million people in the Lake Chad Basin need immediate food support and are dependent on humanitarian assistance for their survival. They remain cut off from their traditional livelihoods in an area where agriculture, fishing, livestock rearing, and regional trade were dynamic prior to the crisis. The number of food-insecure people across the region is expected to increase to 5.8 million by August 2018. The situation will keep deteriorating for the foreseeable future unless there is a concerted effort, driven by the governments of the conflictaffected countries, to lift communities out of a protracted crisis and support them to resume their lives and livelihoods. This cannot wait. A short-term humanitarian response, focused solely on keeping people alive, is not enough.
More than 2.2 million people remain displaced across Niger, Chad, Cameroon and north-east Nigeria as a result of the conflict. At the height of the conflict in 2014–15, non-state armed groups controlled about 20,000 square miles of land within north-east Nigeria alone (20% of Nigeria), where close to 1.8 million people lived. Military strategies to cut the armed groups off from their economic resources and declared ‘state of emergencies’ have had disastrous impacts on civilians’ access to livelihoods.
Despite the government regaining control of areas in recent years, almost one million people are still living in out-of-reach areas and many communities remain displaced – or experience onward displacement – with little or no hope of returning to their homes due to threats from non-state armed actors and ongoing military operations in their villages of origin.
In Nigeria, one in five internally displaced persons (IDPs) have stated their intention to integrate locally in the current area of their displacement; and many others, while expressing the desire to leave, have asserted that the security situation is not yet conducive for going home. A significant return movement is not expected among Niger and Chad’s displaced communities in the coming year.
Ongoing insecurity, compounded by the lack of access to livelihoods, continues to expose displaced communities to protection threats such as killing, abduction, and sexual abuse, forcing them to resort to dangerous activities and negative coping mechanisms to survive. For women and girls, some of these negative coping mechanisms include early marriages (a direct consequence of lack of resources) or survival sex. Men and boys are also targeted and faced with abduction and killing as they go for firewood collection or to farm in insecure areas.
The food situation, far from improving, is expected to deteriorate from mid-2018, when climate-related stresses across the Sahel region are likely to compound the situation.
According to a humanitarian needs forecast for the region, 62% of the Chadian population in the Lake region is expected to be food-insecure during the 2018 lean season: a 52% increase compared with 2017. In Nigeria, 3.7 million people could become food insecure if appropriate assistance is not delivered (compared with 2.6 million in January 2018). According to the 2018 Nigeria Humanitarian Response Plan, 5.7 million people are in urgent need of early recovery and livelihood assistance in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states. However, the early recovery and livelihood sector was only 7.7% funded in 2017.
While many humanitarian and development actors consider that conditions for early recovery are met in certain locations (the Lake region of Chad, most of Adamawa and Yobe state in Nigeria, the western part of Diffa region in Niger), the relative improvement in the security situation over the past two years has not translated into an improved access to livelihoods in most areas. Thanks to generous funding – 70% of the 2017 humanitarian response plan was funded in Nigeria – and a massive humanitarian scale-up, famine was averted in the north-east of Nigeria. But a similar level of humanitarian assistance will be hard to maintain in 2018, and even if it can, this will not provide a long-term solution to the lack of access to food and livelihoods in this protracted crisis.
The continuing lack of safe livelihoods risks contributing to ongoing cycles of violence, fuelling grievances and further undermining the stretched coping capacities of impoverished communities. Massive investment in livelihoods opportunities is needed now, combining short- and long-term approaches, to prevent a deterioration of the situation. Action must be taken immediately: vulnerable women, men and children cannot wait until they are safe to go home for a more durable solution. A strong political vision is required from the governments of conflict-affected countries, which should take the lead in coordinating humanitarian and development interventions. Moreover, investment in livelihoods should be seen as an opportunity to empower women and youth and to reduce gender inequality, in order to promote long-term peace in the region.