The humanitarian crisis in the Lake Chad Basin is among the most severe in the world, with more than 10 million people in urgent need of life-saving assistance and protection. Yet, it is critical that we urgently scale up development interventions to strengthen resilience in the region, help people and communities recover as quickly as possible and prevent a further deterioration of the crisis.
The urgent need for a resilience-based approach
The humanitarian crisis in the Lake Chad Basin (LCB) is among the most severe in the world, with more than 10 million people in urgent need of life-saving assistance and protection. As the crisis enters its ninth year, attacks by non-state armed groups remain frequent, and the violent conflict continues to fuel large-scale human suffering, including massive violations of human rights, especially for women and girls, who are often victims of abuse and sexual violence. Communities and individuals in the LCB, especially women, are accustomed to shocks and have withstood numerous crises in the past decades.
Life-saving humanitarian assistance has been critical in helping them absorb the impact of these shocks and continues to be needed considering the severity of the situation.
Yet, it is critical that we urgently scale up development interventions to strengthen resilience in the region, help people and communities recover as quickly as possible and prevent a further deterioration of the crisis. While acute emergency needs continue to be dire, delivering only humanitarian assistance year after year will not be enough to prevent the further erosion of local capacities nor to bring communities back to a path of sustainable development. Development programmes for strengthening resilience need to be scaled up now, even while humanitarian programmes continue.
This means enhancing local governance, providing basic services, improving economic opportunity and strengthening social cohesion, while also restoring people’s and institutions’ sense of agency and dignity, as well as their ability to adapt to changing circumstances—all with a focus on women and young people. A more coordinated approach to humanitarian and development programing that upholds and safeguards human rights is needed to “move from delivering aid, to ending need”, as expressed in the Secretary-General’s Agenda for Humanity, which called for a New Way of Working. This requires a boost in development action that focuses on “those furthest behind first” and addresses the structural deficits and root causes underlying the crisis in the LCB.
The underlying causes of the LCB crisis include high inequality, perceived social injustice, a lack of social service provision, historic marginalization, inadequate economic opportunities, high levels of poverty, rapid demographic growth and the impacts of climate change and land degradation. These pre-existing structural constraints and deficiencies have disproportionately affected women and girls, and reduced the ability of the population and political, social and economic systems to cope with conflictinduced disruptions. The violence has further increased people’s vulnerability, disrupting farming, fisheries and pastoralist livelihoods, freedom of movement, commerce, local governance and the provision of basic services. It has affected the ability of communities to effectively and peacefully manage these conflicts.
Competition over diminishing natural resources due to the impacts of rapid population growth, climate variability and climate change have further exacerbated tensions in the region.
As a result, a military victory alone would not be enough to create positive peace and stability and protect human rights. A focus on restoring and enhancing resilience is needed, even as humanitarian activities and security operations continue. The recently released UN-World Bank report “A Pathway for Peace” shows that conflict stems from the mobilization of people’s perception of exclusion and injustice, which are rooted in inequalities, and tackling these issues should be a priority to prevent further escalation of conflict. While military and security agencies have made some progress in limiting the activities of extremist groups, their own practices have, at times, been heavy-handed and have included violations of human rights, adding to the sense of insecurity and alienation which increase divisions among displaced persons and communities.
Resilience in the affected zone means going beyond simply restoring the status quo ante, which had contributed to the escalation of the crisis. Resilience means building a better standard of living than before. This will lessen the risk of and vulnerability to future crises, and thus reduce the costs of responding to humanitarian needs. Moreover, equipping stakeholders with peacebuilding tools to strengthen social cohesion between divided and/or adversarial groups will enable communities to foster peaceful and cohesive initiatives to improve socio-economic development.
However, there is a shortage of effective and coordinated development interventions in the LCB that address the root causes of the crisis and focus on strengthening resilience of people and communities. Some development programmes were halted when the crisis began, mainly due to insecurity, the prioritization of security-related interventions and the shortage of government actors to work in these areas. Even in areas not in active conflict, a lack of political will and prioritization from governments, a high level of corruption and high operational costs have made LCB areas less attractive to receive development funding.
Finding ways to scale up development interventions and improve their efficiency in the LCB in order to address these structural deficits is therefore critical. Central and local government authorities have the primary responsibility to address the underlying structural constraints and weaknesses that contribute to the conflict and create high levels of vulnerability.
Development partners should find ways to support national institutions and build their capacity to address underlying development deficits in the LCB and the root causes of grievances and religious extremism. Also, development partners must adopt conflict-sensitive approaches to avoid exacerbating existing conflicts or creating the conditions for new conflicts to arise.
Bringing in development assistance ‘earlier’ in a crisis (when possible) has been shown to result in clear economic benefits, including offsetting medium- to long-term losses, mitigating risks, catalyzing economic growth and decreasing reliance on humanitarian funding.
There is considerable scope to scale-up development investments in the LCB. Several donors are already allocating development funds for the LCB starting in 2017 and have adapted their operational modalities in order to do so. For those projects that have already begun implementation, the feedback has been that the activities remain effective, despite difficult operating circumstances. They are demonstrating that scaling up development-oriented action in the LCB is possible, in spite of the continued conflict and rapidly evolving situation, by involving communities and integrating more risk-tolerance, flexibility and creativity in programme design, as well as investing in building the capacity of women and youth.
This paper highlights the type of medium/longerterm efforts that need to be supported and scaled up, in parallel with humanitarian and peacebuilding efforts, in order to strengthen resilience. These need to be initiated now and make the 2030 Agenda a reality for the more than 10 million people affected by crises year after year in the Lake Chad Basin. This approach is in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, Agenda 2063 of the African Union, National Recovery and Development Plans (such as the Buhari Plan for North East Nigeria, and the Recovery and Peacebuilding Assessments, or RPBAs, in Nigeria and Cameroon), and UN Development Assistance Frameworks (UNDAF). It is also in line with the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit’s Agenda for Humanity and subsequent efforts to strengthen the humanitariandevelopment collaboration and roll out the New Way of Working. The paper is also well aligned with several regional and sub-regional strategic frameworks, including the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS) and its new Support Plan, and the African Union and Lake Chad Basin Commission joint Lake Chad Basin Stabilization, Resilience and Development Strategy.