UNITED NATIONS, Feb 24 (IPS) – Years of violence and unrest in North-East Nigeria have left millions of people at risk of starving to death. Both the violent up surging of Boko Haram and the government’s harsh military crackdown have left already historically marginalised communities with next to nothing.
The military crackdown on Boko Haram has destroyed the economy around Lake Chad.
Some towns have already seen all of their children aged less than five years of age die from starvation, according to Toby Lanzer, the UN’s coordinator for the region.The violence, which began in North-East Nigeria has spilled over into the three other countries bordering Lake Chad: Cameroon, Niger and Chad.
On Friday the Norwegian government will hold a donor’s conference for the crisis in the Lake Chad basin – often described as one of the world’s most neglected crises.IPS spoke to Sultana Begum, Oxfam Advocacy and Policy lead for the Lake Chad Basin crisis, who was in New York ahead of the donor’s conference.
The emphasis on responding militarily to the crisis has left already historically marginalised communities worse off, Begum told IPS.
“It isn’t just Boko Haram. It is the governments and the militaries of the region and the way that they are fighting this war,” she said. “In order to cut off Boko Haram from food and supplies, they have also cut off the lifeline of the civilian population.”
International governments have also been providing military and counter terrorism support in the region, says Begum, but she hopes they will also help support Nigeria to increase the humanitarian response through providing the funding needed to help people affected by the conflict.
The military has also been funding vigilantes as a way to fight Boko Haram, a strategy which could potentially backfire and do further harm to local communities, according to a new report released Wednesday by the International Crisis Group.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian military has also been leading parts of the humanitarian response, such as running refugee camps, says Begum.
“New areas that the military has retaken, it is very militarized,” she says. “As soon as possible the military needs to hand (the camps) over to the civilian authorities, to humanitarians.
“However the vast majority of displaced people sheltered in the region are living in the homes of relatives, distant acquaintances and even strangers, who have opened their homes.”
These communities have been so incredibly generous some of them have taken 5, 6 families into their own homes,” said Begum.
“They’ve shared the little food that they have and they have very little themselves. They’ve really opened their hearts. Really they’re the heroes of the story, and they haven’t just been helping for 6 months, 5 months, many of them have been hosting these families in their homes for 2 to 3, sometimes 4 years. Some of the host communities hope that people will pay rent but people really can’t afford to pay rent.”