The Forgotten Humanitarian Crisis: Boko Haram
As the political drama of the U.S. presidential election unfolded late in 2016, most television sets in northeastern Nigeria tuned into the action. In the heart of one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, the food shortage and infrastructural devastation caused by Boko Haram has received little media coverage. Military efforts to combat the region’s terrorist group have reduced wartime violence but left small-scale terror and a humanitarian catastrophe in their wake. National governments in the region have been poor and even corrupt in their efforts to alleviate the struggle of the millions affected. Suffice it to say, the rest of the world has not been paying much attention, either.
Borno State, the Nigerian state which has suffered the violence and infrastructural destruction of the terrorist group Boko Haram for the last seven years, has an estimated population of 5.5 million people. According to a study by the United Nations released in October, 3.2 million are facing between crisis and famine levels of food insecurity. Children under the age of five are most severely affected. While humanitarian agencies like the International Rescue Committee are on the ground working to provide emergency aid to combat starvation and malnutrition, suicide bombings are on the rise in the region and the rest of the world shows little sympathy. The 2016 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) approved by the United Nations was barely half-funded at the midway point of December. The 2017 plan necessitates triple the funding.
Much of the food shortage results from Boko Haram’s main combat strategy. The group targets farmers by killing livestock and destroying grain, or by stealing the assets and selling them for profit. According to the U.N.’s World Food Program, seven out of ten farmers in Cameroon’s Far North region have been forced to abandon their fields. Fishing around the Lake Chad region has also been made dangerous. And the onset of hunger has created a deadly cycle in which the few farmers who remain are unfit to work their fields in the face of starvation.
In northeastern Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, a total of 2.7 million people have been displaced and around 10.7 million people are in need of humanitarian aid. At the urging of Secretary General Antonio Guterres, ambassadors from the U.N. Security Council visited the region last week and quickly concluded that “barely enough is being done” about the situation. Other representatives of humanitarian agencies raised concerns about sending aid to hard-to-reach areas and addressing the psychosocial trauma compounding the suffering. As part of the visit to the region, the UNSC visited Niger for the first time since the crisis began seven years ago. The Diffa region in Niger currently plays host to 240,000 internally displaced persons, two-thirds of which are children. Last summer, thousands were forced to flee further as Boko Haram descended upon the region from Nigeria.
The Security Council vowed Friday to put the region in the spotlight and admitted that the crisis had long been ignored by the international community. Fourteen donor countries pledged $672 million last week towards humanitarian aid. While substantial, the donations constitute less than half of the $1.5 billion that the United Nations is seeking for its Response Plan. Hopefully, the U.N.’s promise to highlight the situation in the region will result in a little more airtime and attention for the crisis.