The United Nations and partners are scaling up efforts to contain the conflict in Nigeria’s north-east which has resulted in widespread displacement, violation of human rights law, protection risks and a deepening humanitarian crisis. In this report, VICTOR OKEKE examines these efforts.

The recently launched United Nations’ Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) 2018 for the states in North East Nigeria underpin the effort of global partners towards ending the long drawn battle between Nigeria and Boko Haram insurgents.

The very ambitious plan hopes to continue to deliver life-saving assistance and protection in north-east Nigeria, and prioritising the most acute needs identified in the Humanitarian Needs overview.

Since 2003, clashes between the Nigerian military and rebel groups escalated into conflict in May 2013, with authorities declaring a state of emergency in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States. Since then, the region has experienced massive destruction of infrastructure, collapse of livelihoods, widespread displacement and brutal attacks on the civilians.

Borno State clearly remains the epicentre of the humanitarian crisis, with dozens of conflict incidents reported each month, while Yobe and Adamawa States report far fewer incidents. Direct violence against civilians, including the use of improvised explosive devices (often carried by human beings, including women or children), is observed in Borno almost on a weekly basis. About nine out of 10 displaced persons come from Borno and the state also hosts the vast majority (78 per cent) of IDPs.

Among the strategic objectives of the HRP include; to provide life-saving emergency assistance to the most vulnerable people in conflict-affected areas ensuring that assistance is timely and appropriate and meets relevant technical standards; ensure that all assistance promote the protection, safety and dignity of affected people, and is provided equitably to women, girls, men and boys.

It will also foster resilience and early recovery, and strengthen the humanitarian development nexus by working towards collective outcomes.

UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon said all activities will ensure the safety, dignity and equitable access of affected girls, women, boys and men to principled humanitarian assistance. Simultaneously, partners will strengthen the humanitarian-development nexus, especially in transitional areas, in order to lay the foundation for recovery and development, and will advocate with government and development actors to effectively address the drivers of vulnerabilities, underlying structural issues and the root causes of the crisis.

The 2018 HRP builds on the gains from last year’s response. Despite operational challenges, the humanitarian community reached over five million of the most vulnerable women, children and men in   the   states   of   Borno, Adamawa and Yobe.

This was achieved largely due to donor contributions, funding 70.5   per   cent   or   about   US$742   of    the   2017   financial   requirements.

The $1.05 billion HRP for the North East states, minister of state for Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, said will target about 6.1 million people in the affected states in the humanitarian plan.

In recognition of the efforts initiated by the Government of Nigeria for rehabilitation and recovery, the humanitarian community will endeavour to complement the Nigeria Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, Buhari Plan and United Nations Sustainable Development Partnership Framework, underpinned by a multi-year humanitarian vision.

Humanitarian efforts will support the nexus between humanitarian and development initiatives through a whole of-Government approach in the north-east, ensuring that humanitarian assistance is sequenced and complementary towards recovery and development, while adhering to humanitarian principles and targeting the most vulnerable.

Displacement across conflict-affected areas in Africa directly impacts a range of social, political, and economic process, and diminishes current development gains on the continent. Last month, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimated that 2.7 million people were newly displaced in Africa during the first six months of 2017, an equivalent of 15,000 people forced from their homes daily.

Roughly three-quarters of those were allegedly due to conflict and violence. With disrupted markets and reduced access to economic activities, high levels of malnutrition, exacerbated poverty levels, and environmental degradation, displacement weakens the resiliency of communities and places a high level of stress on available humanitarian aid.

In Nigeria, civilians still bear the brunt of the conflict that has resulted in widespread displacement, lack of protection, destroyed infrastructure and collapsed basic services. The food and nutrition crisis is of massive proportions. An estimated 7.7 million people in the three most affected states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe now depend on humanitarian assistance for their survival.

According to data from the UN plan, in 2017, the response was scaled up and, as of October, had reached 5.6 million people. Some major successes were achieved, including a decrease in the number of food insecure people from 5.1 million to 3.9 million, the rapid containment of the cholera outbreak through the innovative use of an oral cholera vaccine, improved agricultural production through assistance to 1.3 million farmers and access to a higher number of affected people.

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon said “these results can be attributed to strong coordination, extensive engagement and generous funding and government of Nigeria succeeded in opening new areas in mid-2017 that enabled the humanitarian community to provide much-needed life-saving assistance.”

Despite these achievements, many challenges remain as the conflict and population movements continue. Prior to the crisis, the region was already mired by chronic development challenges.

Humanitarian assistance has prevented people from slipping below emergency thresholds, but it has not addressed underlying vulnerabilities. In the absence of a political solution, the crisis will likely continue into 2018.

While a robust humanitarian response will be essential – especially in hardest-hit Borno State – the protracted nature of the crisis creates new needs which require longer-term assistance.

According to Kallon,“For the 1.6 million who are displaced from their homes, and the communities that host them, we need to find durable solutions. This requires longer planning horizons, more strategic interventions and flexible, longer-term funding.

“The provision of life-saving emergency assistance to the most vulnerable remains our immediate priority. We will also scale up protection and resilience-based activities, and ensure better quality of our interventions. Capacity building for local partners and government counterparts will be prioritised across the response to strengthen national response mechanisms and ensure sustainability. In doing so, humanitarian partners will require $1.05 billion to reach 6.1 million people with humanitarian assistance.”

Also, the minister of state for Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed added that the 2018 HRP was part of the humanitarian and development strategies encapsulated in the Nigeria Economic Recovery and Growth Plan.

She said, “We are appealing for resources to meet the immediate life-saving needs of nearly 7.7 million people in the three states through a multi-sectoral approach. The government is focused on the three key areas of protection and gender, localisation and community engagement.”

There are many factors that have contributed to the emergence of the crisis in north-east Nigeria. Even before the start of the conflict, the region experienced high levels of poverty, under- development, unemployment and inequality.

Demographic dynamics pose a challenge, considering that a large segment of the population is young (45 per cent are less than 15 years of age, and 30 per cent are between 15 and 34 years old). There is a high dependency burden due to youth unemployment and lack of opportunity. Within this context, girls are exposed to greater risks of sexual violence and abuse, early and forced marriage, teenage pregnancies, trafficking and abduction as sex slave.

Globally, Nigeria ranks 152 out of 187 in the Human Development Index (HDI), which is well below the average for sub-Saharan Africa. Nationally, 46 per cent of the population is below the poverty line, while in the north-east, the figure is 77 per cent. Significant gender disparities continue to exist between regions. In the north-east and west of the country, out of a specific geographic area may cause suspicion and lead women tend to become mothers in their teens, at 17 to 19 years of age, compared to 19 to 21 years in the central part of the country, and above 20 years in the coastal south.

The maternal mortality rate in north-east Nigeria is the highest in the country and almost 10 times higher than the rate in the country’s south-western zone (1,538/100,000 compared to 165/100,000 live births). The child mortality rate in the north- east (160/1,000 live births) is among the worst in the world, and the highest in the country. Wasting in the north-east is at 20 per cent, the second highest in the country13.

Access to education has also been historically low with more than one third of children in the north-east out of school. Of those who attend school, 72 per cent are unable to read upon completion of sixth grade. In Borno, which has the lowest rates of any state in the country, only 35 per cent of adolescent girls and 46 per cent of adolescent boys are literate, compared to 98 per cent for both genders in Imo State in the south-east.

But these are merely the challenges. According to the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, these problems would be tackled headlong this year when all humanitarian partners aim to reach 6.1 million people in three states of north-east Nigeria (Borno, Yobe and Adamawa).

According to Kallon, while the HRP’s primary focus remains on life-saving assistance and protection in conflict-affected areas, partners will build on the progress made in this regard in 2017 to foster self-reliance and resilience of affected people through a deeper integration of early recovery approaches, and collaborating with development partners on joint analysis, planning and programming to achieve collective outcomes.

“Humanitarian programming will also lay the foundation for durable solutions for IDPs, refugees and host communities, with the ultimate aim of reducing the need for humanitarian assistance,” he added.

QUOTE:

While a robust humanitarian response will be essential – especially in hardest-hit Borno State – the protracted nature of the crisis creates new needs which require longer-term assistance.