The humanitarian crisis in Nigeria’s north-eastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe (the so-called BAY states) is expected to persist unabated in 2021: the continuing conflict will still severely affect millions of people in 2021, subjecting them to displacement (new or continued), impoverishment and threat of violence.
Some 1.92 million people are displaced internally, and 257,000 have sought refuge in neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger. The majority (54%) of the internally displaced people (IDPs) have found refuge in host communities. Borno State has 81% of the IDPs, of whom slightly more than half (54%) stay in IDP camps. In 2020, some 81,000 newly displaced people arrived in camps and the host communities across the BAY states. The armed conflict has no clear end in sight. The Nigerian Armed Forces’ strategy (since mid-2019) of focusing on regrouping troops into ’super camps,’ while improving security for IDPs who had gathered in sites within adjacent ‘garrison towns,’ has affected security and protection for IDPs or other civilians outside of these areas, as well as attempts to reach them with humanitarian aid. The prospects for displaced people’s safe return to their areas of origin are tenuous, though some areas of origin are conducive for return, or could be made conducive because they are relatively safe and accessible to humanitarian actors (generally more so in Yobe and Adamawa states than in Borno state). The Borno State Government started facilitating IDPs to return to their local government areas (LGAs) of origin, with the aim to relocate all IDPs from Maiduguri to their LGAs of origin by May 2021; however the humanitarian community remains concerned about returns that may not be sustainable and aligned to the Borno State Returns Strategy. Nigerian refugees in Cameroon and Niger continue to arrive into bordering LGAs in Nigeria due to insecurity and poor living conditions in their areas of asylum. Some 6,000 Nigerian refugees crossed international borders into IDP camps in 2020, many of them (68%) into Damasak and Bama towns.
Protection needs are formidable. Women and girls are under threat of violence, abduction and rape. Genderbased violence (GBV) including sexual violence as well as forced and child marriages continue to be reported and are attributed to the conflict, insecurity and poor living conditions in IDP camps and informal settlements. In 2020, over 3,700 cases of GBV were reported; this was a 15% decrease from 2019, but under-reporting and likely weaknesses of systems to detect and track such incidents may make this an illusory decline. Desperation drives women to negative coping strategies, such as exchanging sex for food and other necessities. Displacement and returns impose high risk on separated and unaccompanied children.
Boys and adolescent males risk forcible recruitment by armed groups, or suspicion on the part of authorities of association with armed groups. Civilians continue to suffer death and injury from explosive ordnance, including the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
The operating environment remains extremely volatile, particularly in Borno State, where all the major supply routes have become dangerous—due to risk of attacks by non-state armed groups (NSAGs), as well as from unexploded ordnance and improvised landmines.
This poses a risk to civilians and, moreover, aid workers, humanitarian cargo and assets. Humanitarian hubs and aid organisations’ offices suffered regular attacks in 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic both deepens humanitarian needs and complicates the response. The Nigerian economy has suffered from the fall in global oil prices and from restriction measures to curtail the spread of the virus, particularly intermittent border closures and the need to dedicate resources to respond to the pandemic. The consequent impairment of livelihoods cascades down to loss of income and buying power, with acute effects on the already-vulnerable and foodinsecure. Operationally, COVID-19 measures to keep humanitarian staff and beneficiaries safe consume time and resources.
Conflict, explosive remnants of war and insecurity have cut people off from their main means of livelihoods— farming and fishing. This causes major food insecurity in north-east Nigeria, which COVID-19’s effects on incomes have exacerbated: despite good crop yields, food insecurity is rising. Findings of the October 2020 Cadre Harmonisé (CH) analysis projected that about 5.1 million people in the three states will be food-insecure in the lean season between June and August 2021 – a 19% and 34% increase on the 2020 (after COVID-19 June CH Update) and 2019 figures respectively. According to the Nutrition and Food Security Surveillance Round 9, conducted in October 2020, the level of acute malnutrition increased in all the three states compared to 2019. Global acute malnutrition (GAM) rates of 10.7% were recorded in Borno, 7.5% in Adamawa and 13.6% in Yobe. According to the survey, several LGAs had high pockets of global acute malnutrition of above the 15% threshold (emergency phase), including Gubio, Magumeri,
Mobbar and Bayo in Borno State and all LGAs in northern Yobe. Movement restrictions and insecurity continue to hamper the ability of IDPs, returnees and the host communities to access basic services, livelihoods, and land for farming and grazing. This means that more people will rely on humanitarian aid to survive in 2021.
Looking back on the planning assumptions at the outset of the 2019-2021 humanitarian strategy, the prediction that conflict would continue, would generate new displacement and would steadily constrict access has been borne out. The forecast of declining international humanitarian donor support from high points in 2017 and 2018 has proven true, though it is hoped not irreversibly so. Still, 2020’s Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) funding of some $549 million is a 25% drop from the peak of $733 million in 2017, while needs have generally increased. The strategy’s prediction that rehabilitation, reconstruction and development activities would scale up in north-east Nigeria has proven only partly true, as the widening insecurity has prevented many such interventions.
As predicted, there has been some pressure on displaced populations to return to their LGAs of origin, even while the conflict continues and despite gaps in infrastructure, basic services, and the presence of civilian administration in return areas. COVID-19, of course, was not foreseen in the strategy’s planning assumptions.
The strategy overall still stands, as the situation has evolved largely as predicted. The following sections present adjustments in specific focuses for 2021.
It is important to underline that the requirements for this 2021 HRP are less than those for 2020 (after the COVID-19 revision) not because needs are lesser, but because the new requirements better reflect the hard realities of operating and delivering in northeast Nigeria. Humanitarian actors can reach only a subset of the people in need, and even for those they can reach, aid materials and services often cannot flow freely enough to meet all needs. In other words, insecurity makes many locations inaccessible and constrains transport and access to the nominally accessible humanitarian hub locations. However, as partners and common services continue to adapt to the operational challenges, they may revise targets and requirements during 2021 to reach more of the people in need.
The Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) strongly advocates that:
(1) national and international humanitarian actors bring more capacity to bear on north-east Nigeria;
(2) humanitarian donors increase their support for north-east Nigeria to allow implementing organizations and the enabling common services to reach based on needs and the full extent of potential capacity rather than resources;
(3) development donors and implementers engage to the maximum to take advantage of opportunities for multi-year transition to long-term solutions for people in need, in coordination with humanitarian actors;
(4) all relevant stakeholders step up efforts to reach people in need in inaccessible areas, including through with the support of the Government of Nigeria;
(5) that IDP returns be aligned to the Borno State Returns Strategy, without which returnees risk worse insecurity and secondary or tertiary displacements which further stretch the humanitarian response; and (6) that the Government of Nigeria at all levels, supported by Nigeria’s private sector and civil society, mobilize the necessary resources to reach the people in need whom international humanitarians cannot.