Boko Haram Violence Blamed for Massive Insecurity, Forced Displacement, as Security Council Considers Situation in Lake Chad Basin
Speakers Hail Regional Military Efforts, Call for More International Support
Violence by Boko Haram had led to massive forced displacement and a widespread humanitarian crisis in West Africa’s Lake Chad Basin, senior United Nations officials told the Security Council today, as speakers called for increased international support for regional efforts to combat terrorism and meet the needs of 9.2 million people facing unimaginable desperation across four countries.
Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, and Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, briefed the Council ahead of a debate on peace and security in Africa, describing the dramatic impacts of terrorism and humanitarian needs on the region. Mr. Feltman had visited Gabon, Congo, Chad, Guinea-Bissau and Senegal, from 20 to 26 July, and Mr. O’Brien travelled to Nigeria and Niger in May.
Mr. Feltman welcomed efforts by the Lake Chad Basin countries to combat Boko Haram, noting that the Multinational Joint Task Force comprising military forces from those countries, had recaptured 80 per cent of territory under the group’s control. However, it faced a severe lack of funding, he said, noting that only $250 million had been pledged at an African Union donors’ conference held on 1 February in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Even less had been disbursed, he said, emphasizing that success for the Task Force would depend on timely, actionable intelligence as well as specialized counter-terrorism skills and equipment.
“Lake Chad Basin countries need our support to help ensure that military operations are followed by stabilization measures and the restoration of State authority,” he continued. Noteworthy recommendations had emerged from a regional security summit held on 14 May in Abuja, Nigeria, which had underscored the impact of climate change. He encouraged the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to adopt a common regional strategy to address the crisis.
Mr. O’Brien said boundless insecurity had weakened a region already impacted by environmental degradation — including the shrinking of Lake Chad — the world’s highest population growth and widespread extreme poverty. An estimated 9 million people across Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon were in need of assistance, he said, adding that 2.8 million of them had been displaced by violence. In Nigeria, home to 7 million of the 9 million people in need, 244,000 children in Borno State suffered from severe malnutrition, while in Niger, a single attack by Boko Haram in June had left more than 70,000 people displaced in Bosso town.
He went on to spotlight the existence of more than 60,000 registered displaced persons and tens of thousands of unregistered ones in Chad’s Lac region, adding that in the Far North region of Cameroon, the number of people needing immediate food aid had quadrupled to more than 200,000 since June 2015. Indeed, the Lake Chad Basin was as much a humanitarian catastrophe as a security priority. “I have been shouting into what feels like an empty room to highlight this dire situation,” he said, calling for increased international attention to the region. “It is within our — and your — power to be relevant.”
In the ensuing debate, speakers agreed that the Lake Chad Basin faced multiple interconnected challenges: poverty, terrorism, organized crime and climate change among them. Many commended regional countries for their leadership in combating Boko Haram and advocated increased support for the Multinational Joint Task Force in the form of training, capacity-building, equipment and logistics. On that point, the Russian Federation’s representative said it should not be forgotten that Boko Haram had declared allegiance to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), which had established itself in Libya. Such links made it necessary to address that urgent threat in Africa.
Speakers also expressed concern over the alarming humanitarian situation, with France’s representative saying that his country’s President had launched the Lake Chad initiative. Egypt’s representative said that addressing the crisis was a top international priority, adding that his country was prepared to step up its cooperation with Governments in the region. He called for a holistic approach to address political, military, humanitarian and development challenges.
The representative of the United States said the need for robust military efforts to combat Boko Haram was critical, given the group’s ability to move across borders. Noting her country’s contributions, she urged more Member States to step up while emphasizing the need to respect human rights. When security forces rounded up civilians and carried out torture and scorched earth tactics, they alienated those whose support was crucial, she cautioned. More must be also done to address the region’s dire humanitarian situation. “We have to plan the long game in countering violent extremism” while at the same time keeping people alive “in the here and now”.
Senegal’s representative said the drastic shrinking of Lake Chad, together with climate change and over-exploitation of natural resources, had left people vulnerable, especially to terrorist groups like Boko Haram. Regional countries needed more support to deal with security, humanitarian and sustainable development challenges.
Along similar lines, Angola’s representative said that shifting climate patterns, diversion of water and increasing demand had impacted Lake Chad’s size. The Basin was no longer able to provide livelihoods and the related poverty and joblessness had created fertile conditions for radicalism and terrorism.
Also speaking today were representatives of the United Kingdom, Spain, China, Ukraine, Malaysia, Venezuela, Uruguay, New Zealand and Japan.
The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 12:02 p.m.
JEFFREY FELTMAN, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said that despite commendable efforts, Boko Haram still threatened regional stability, adding that countries of the Lake Chad Basin faced a serious humanitarian crisis. Sexual and gender-based violence among the displaced had been reported, he said, emphasizing that concerned States must ensure accountability for serious human rights violations by their national forces. States must also ensure the protection of civilians and respect for due process when dealing with persons arrested for Boko Haram-related charges. Children in particular should be treated as victims and dealt with in accordance with international standards of juvenile justice, he emphasized.
The economic impact of the crisis had been devastating, he continued, noting that high youth unemployment provided Boko Haram with fertile recruitment ground. Military operations must complement long-term development interventions that would include addressing the effects of climate change. Welcoming the efforts of the Lake Chad Basin countries to combat Boko Haram, he said the Multinational Joint Task Force had recaptured 80 per cent of the territory previously under the group’s control, but it faced a severe lack of funding. Only $250 million had been pledged at an African Union donors’ conference held in Addis Ababa on 1 February and even less had been disbursed, he noted. Success for the Multinational Joint Task Force also depended on timely and actionable intelligence as well as specialized counter-terrorism skills and equipment.
He went on to state that the Lake Chad Basin counties were bearing financial responsibility for combating Boko Haram and were increasingly frustrated by delays in providing international support to the Multinational Joint Task Force. Urging the international community to support it by mobilizing political, logistical and financial support in a flexible manner, he stressed: “A military approach, while essential, will not bring an end to the Boko Haram threat.” Root causes — including the grievances of marginalized communities — must also be addressed. “Lake Chad Basin countries need our support to help ensure that military operations are followed with stabilization measures and restoration of State authority.”
Some noteworthy recommendations that had emerged from a regional security summit held in Abuja, Nigeria, underscored the impact of climate change, he noted. The United Nations stood ready to support the Lake Chad Basin countries, and encouraged leaders of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to adopt a common regional strategy to address the crisis, and the Council’s support would help to underscore the urgency of the matter.
STEPHEN O’BRIEN, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, emphasized that the region, host to Africa’s fastest-growing displacement crisis, needed the Council’s urgent attention. Violence by Boko Haram had led to massive forced displacement, while boundless insecurity had deepened the fragility of a region already impacted by unpoliceable borders, environmental degradation — including the drying up of Lake Chad itself — and the world’s highest population growth. Across the Basin — spanning parts of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon — more than 9 million people were in need of assistance, he said, citing United Nations estimates while noting that some 2.8 million of them had been displaced by violence.
He went on to report that while many lived in camps amid grim conditions, the vast majority were living with host communities which were themselves among the world’s poorest people. Hundreds of thousands of farmers had missed three years of planting, and the disruption of trade routes had left 5.2 million people severely food-insecure. He said that while the people of the Lake Chad Basin were used to coping with extreme hardship, he had never heard such desperation in 37 years of travelling in the region. “This is a new terror,” he added. Some 1.7 million displaced children risked being forcibly recruited by Boko Haram, while gender-based violence and sexual exploitation were widespread.
“Nigeria is bearing the brunt of the crisis,” he continued, pointing out that 7 million of the region’s 9 million people in need lived in that country. While the Nigerian army had regained control of a number of towns in Borno State and aid agencies had been able to access new areas, Nigerian authorities had declared a nutrition emergency last month. “We have no time to lose,” he emphasized, noting that 244,000 children in Borno State alone were suffering from severe acute malnutrition, and almost one in five risked death in the course of 2016.
Turning to the other Lake Chad Basin countries, he said a single attack by Boko Haram in June had left more than 70,000 people displaced in Bosso town, Niger, bringing the total number of displaced in the Diffa region to more than 160,000. Needs were also dire in Chad’s Lac region, where more than 60,000 people were registered as displaced and tens of thousands of others were unregistered. In the Far North region of Cameroon, the number of people requiring immediate food aid had quadrupled to more than 200,000 since June 2015.
Humanitarian actors had scaled-up their efforts and taken a regional approach, he said, recalling that last week, humanitarian country teams in Cameroon and Nigeria had partnered in providing cross-border assistance to Banki, Nigeria, where 20,000 internally displaced persons had been cut off from aid since last year. Such urgent efforts must be complemented with increased development assistance. The Basin was as much a humanitarian catastrophe as a security priority, he said, emphasizing that protection must be at the core of the humanitarian response. During the Regional Protection Dialogue held in June, Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger had agreed on actions to take in response to the most urgent needs of refugees, internally displaced persons and others.
Despite the best efforts, however, the means to support the humanitarian response did not match the needs, he stressed, pointing out that the 2016 humanitarian response plan for Nigeria was only 28 per cent funded. However, a united call for $221 million between July and September to address life-saving needs had been made, he said, welcoming the contributions made after the release of a 90-day plan. They added to the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) allocation of $13 million for Nigeria and the nearly $90 million already provided to the Basin since 2015.
“I have been shouting into what feels like an empty room to highlight this dire situation in the Lake Chad Basin,” he said, underlining the need for increased international attention to the issue. Apart from providing aid and protection, political efforts were needed to address the root causes of violence, as were efforts with development partners to address the drivers of vulnerability. Recounting his visit to a camp in Konduga, Nigeria, hosting 1,600 displace persons, he said people were looking to the United Nations for help. “It is within our — and your — power to be relevant,” he said, underscoring the need for determination to find the means.
MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) quoted a news photographer’s blog post about a camp for 16,000 displaced people in Nigeria’s Borno State: “You can practically taste the despair”, saying that the humanitarian nightmare was the direct consequence of Boko Haram’s actions. Today was a chance to refocus attention on the crisis. Millions needed humanitarian assistance, but “for many, I fear we are simply too late.” Calling for strong United Nations leadership to coordinate the international effort, he said the international community and Governments in the region must, meanwhile, redouble their efforts to help the Organization scale up urgently needed support, “and that means putting our hands in our pockets”. The United Kingdom was considering where it could do more and hoped others around the Council table would do the same, he said. Protection of civilians must be at the centre of the United Nations response and it was vital that displaced people return home only when it was safe to do so. Addressing the root causes of the crisis meant stopping the conflict, and defeating Boko Haram would require a comprehensive approach with the protection and empowerment of women at its centre. It must also offer something the extremists could never provide — the rule of law. Any action against Boko Haram must be taken in full compliance with human rights standards, he emphasized.
IHAB MOUSTAFA AWAD MOUSTAFA (Egypt) said the Sahel region and the Lake Chad Basin faced many interconnected challenges, including insecurity in Libya, organized crime, terrorism and climate change. Egypt supported all efforts by the Multinational Joint Task Force to combat Boko Haram and commended the leadership of countries in the region in countering the threat posed by the group, he said. While the Task Force had carried out its operation in accordance with international law and international humanitarian law, it still needed support from the international community, particularly in terms of training, capacity-building, equipment and logistics. Urging all partners to honour the pledges they had made in Addis Ababa, he expressed concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation and appealed for a holistic approach that would address political, military, humanitarian and developmental challenges. Dealing with the humanitarian crisis meant putting it at the top of the international community’s list of priorities, he said. It required international solidarity and Egypt was prepared to step up its cooperation with Governments in the region.
ISMAEL ABRAÃO GASPAR MARTINS (Angola) said that environmental degradation, security threats and a huge humanitarian crisis were occurring against a backdrop of extreme poverty. The Lake Chad Basin’s resources benefitted 20 million people, but shifting climate patterns and diversion of water amid increasing demand had impacted the lake’s size. Despite national and regional efforts to manage its shrinking resources, the Lake Chad Basin Commission charged with regulating use of its waters had not improved replenishment. One project had the potential to radically change the Basin, and regional countries should strengthen the political will required to mobilize the international community, which should consider extending support to that project because the region risked becoming a hotbed of conflict. Noting that the Basin was no longer able to provide livelihoods, he said poverty and joblessness had created conditions for radicalism and terrorism. A regional approach would be the most effective in denying safe havens to groups like Boko Haram, which were intensifying their violence, making it imperative for the international community to support the Multinational Joint Task Force. The scale of the crisis called for a renewed sense of urgency, and it was crucial that the Basin countries continue joint efforts to address the many related challenges, he said, voicing support for regional and international efforts to rehabilitate Lake Chad.
ALEXIS LAMEK (France) said Boko Haram was far from being defeated and more than 20 million people were under threat. Some 2.8 million people had been displaced, a number three times greater than that of two years ago. People needed food, water, health care, protection and education. France supported the Multinational Joint Task Force, as well as efforts by regional countries to fight Boko Haram, he said, adding that it had provided logistical support to Chad and Niger in addition to training Cameroonian forces. Ongoing military operations had been effective, he said, noting that Boko Haram had withdrawn into safe havens. Successes had also been seen thanks to efforts by Chadian and Nigerian military forces, he noted, urging support for offensives by regional countries. The fight must also involve development policies, without which Boko Haram would continue to flourish.
FODÉ SECK (Senegal), noting that water management was a main priority of his country’s foreign policy, said the drastic shrinking of Lake Chad, together with climate change and over-exploitation of natural resources, had left the region’s people more vulnerable while exacerbating conflicts. The region had become fertile ground for violent extremists and terrorist groups, with Boko Haram first and foremost among them. Countries in the region needed more support to deal with security, humanitarian and sustainable development challenges, he said, emphasizing that displaced people, most of them women and children, were exposed to every possible risk, including exploitation and abuse. Besides military efforts, an appropriate humanitarian response was needed, he said, commending the various actions taken in response to urgent humanitarian needs. He also welcomed the June regional dialogue on ways to improve civilian protection that had taken place in Abuja.
SAMANTHA POWER (United States) said the crisis deserved greater attention from the Council and the broader international community. Recalling that she had led a delegation to the region in April, she said virtually everyone she had met in camps for displaced people had had a horror story to recount. They included a 14-year-old girl from Cameroon who had become a Boko Haram slave to save her family from being massacred. No longer in captivity, she would still carry the guild and trauma she had suffered for the rest of her life. The need for robust military efforts to combat Boko Haram was critical, given the group’s ability to move across borders, but there was insufficient support for countries on the front lines of the fight. Noting the contributions of the United States, she urged more Member States to step up, emphasizing the need to respect human rights. When security forces rounded up civilians, carried out torture and scorched earth tactics, they alienated those whose support was crucial. More must be done to address the region’s dire humanitarian situation, she said, pointing out that humanitarian appeals were grossly underfunded. “We have to plan the long game in countering violent extremism” by addressing its root causes while at the same time keeping people alive “in the here and now”, she said.
JUAN MANUEL GONZÁLEZ DE LINARES PALOU (Spain), noting that humanitarian crises in the Lake Chad Basin were becoming chronic, said that international cooperation in addressing them had been neither sufficient nor timely. The situation arose from various factors, including a lack of State control over national territory, poverty, climate change, terrorism and violent extremism. Echoing calls for regional cooperation in fighting Boko Haram, he emphasized that such operations must focus on the needs of girls and women, and on health and psychosocial services for survivors. It was also important to recognize links to human trafficking networks and to pay attention to security in and around camps for the displaced. The shrinking of Lake Chad had caused migration and displacement, and was fuelling violent extremism and terrorism, he said, voicing support for the proposal by the Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Committee on examining the extent to which climate change was making people more vulnerable to terrorist groups. He urged a focus on early-warning mechanisms and called for greater political will.
WU HAITAO (China) welcomed the significant progress made by the Multinational Joint Task Force and said the international community must support the anti-terrorism efforts of countries of Central and West Africa, including those of the Lake Chad Basin. More cooperation was needed with regional and subregional organizations, including the African Union and the Lake Chad Basin Commission, he said, adding that the unique advantages of such organizations must be recognized. Furthermore, there must be more humanitarian access to the region, he said, stressing the need to observe the principles of neutrality, impartiality, sovereignty and territorial integrity. Regional countries must receive assistance to address the root causes of conflict and build capacities for economic and social development.
YURIY VITRENKO (Ukraine) expressed full support for all international initiatives to stabilize the region, and encouraged efforts to address all key drivers of conflict. Humanitarian aid must be delivered wherever it was needed most, with Nigeria’s Borno State a vivid case in point. With only 22 per cent of the $559 million United Nations humanitarian response plan financed so far, donors were encouraged to support the effort. With Boko Haram undermining international and regional efforts to take recovery forward, confronting the group would require coherent national programmes against violent extremism. Commending the results of the Second Regional Security Summit, held on 14 May in Abuja, he called on the Secretariat to help regional efforts as much as possible and to enhance cooperation with the Multinational Joint Task Force. The Counter-Terrorism Committee’s upcoming high-level visit to the Lake Chad Basin should be aimed first and foremost at strengthening and promoting cooperation between the international community and the region, he said.
SITI HAJJAR ADNIN (Malaysia) said Boko Haram’s continuing ability to carry out large-scale attacks, and its pledge of allegiance to Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), was the cause of much concern, and Malaysia was pleased that the Multinational Joint Task Force had undertaken operations against the group. Welcoming measures to prevent attacks and reduce civilian targets, she said it was utterly abhorrent that one in five Boko Haram suicide bombers was a child. The Task Force needed predictable and sustainable resources, she said, urging those able to do so to meet those needs. Lost access to education for children was particularly worrying because it created a pool of potential recruits for terrorist and criminal groups, she warned, emphasizing that all children, including displaced ones, must continue their education. She urged the Multinational Joint Task Force to give children special protection, noting that, once freed from Boko Haram’s ranks, they faced serious challenges in getting their lives back. They were often stigmatized by their own communities and needed help, not to be ostracized and shamed.
RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela) said that food insecurity, poverty, exclusion, drought and cross-border organized crime had compounded the threat posed by Boko Haram, leading to forced displacement. Condemning Boko Haram’s actions, he said Venezuela would continue to support all Council efforts and initiatives to promote a sustainable solution to that security threat. He demanded the immediate and unconditional release of all abductees, including those forcibly recruited. The crisis in the Lake Chad Basin represented a debt that the United Nations owed to the region and it should step up its efforts, he said, adding that States should honour their commitments to ease the humanitarian situation. Welcoming efforts by the Multinational Joint Task Force to fight Boko Haram, he voiced hope that regional countries would continue to coordinate their own efforts, emphasizing that anti-terrorism actions should be taken with respect for the principles of sovereignty and self-determination.
LUIS BERMÚDEZ (Uruguay) said the crisis in the Basin must be viewed from a comprehensive perspective, since it arose from situational and structural factors. Security had been undermined by Boko Haram, food insecurity and the failure to meet basic needs. Some 2.4 million people had been affected by Boko Haram, a striking comparison with Uruguay’s population of 3.5 million. Urging recognition of efforts by the World Food Programme (WFP), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), he said hunger and the lack of education, drinking water, security and medical facilities were factors underlying the crisis. Noting that Boko Haram had engaged in human and ivory trafficking, he declared: “They behave as common criminal groups and we need to address this.”
VLADIMIR K. SAFRONKOV (Russian Federation) said Boko Haram’s declaration of allegiance to ISIL, which had established itself in Libya, should not be forgotten. Such links made it necessary to respond to urgent and robust threats in Africa. Concerned about Boko Haram’s preference for soft targets over direct clashes with Government forces, he said that resolving the refugee question would be impossible without eliminating the threat posed by the group. That was an absolute priority. Commending the efforts of the Multinational Joint Task Force so far, he emphasized that the “terrorist hydra” could only be overcome through collective efforts in Africa and elsewhere. He also commended measures taken by the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) and other United Nations entities supporting the Task Force, adding that the Russian Federation would also be cooperating with the region.
PHILLIP TAULA (New Zealand) said Boko Haram’s actions were exacerbating an already difficult humanitarian situation, with the disruption of farming and herding contributing to a looming food crisis in north-east Nigeria. Welcoming the gains made by the Multinational Joint Task Force, including the rescue of 2,300 abductees and the arrest of key Boko Haram members, he said New Zealand encouraged regional solutions to regional issues, describing the Task Force as a practical example of that. Ensuring adequate funding for the Multinational Joint Task Force spoke to the deeper problem to fund regionally-led counter-terrorism and peace operations, he said, pointing out that his country had made, and would continue to make, financial contributions to African-led operations. Besides defeating Boko Haram, it was necessary to address the conditions that had enabled extremism to take hold in the region, including political and economic marginalization, limited access to education, scarce employment and economic opportunities, and food insecurity.
KORO BESSHO (Japan), Council President for July, spoke in his national capacity, noting that 9.2 million people — “a population greater than that of New York City” — needed help urgently. Their vulnerability would be compounded by the rainy season and a lean harvest. Only through effective Multinational Joint Task Force operations could vulnerable communities gain access to humanitarian assistance. The impact of Boko Haram violence had led to major local challenges, he said, noting that in Diffa, Niger, trading in hot peppers and dried fish had been banned for fear that the profits would benefit the group. The growing of maize was also prohibited out of concern that Boko Haram fighters could find safe havens in maize fields. The people of the Lake Chad Basin needed not only humanitarian assistance, but also extended State authority, credible governance, improved public administration and expanded security, he said, emphasizing that the international community must support their immediate and long-term needs. Japan was ready to do its part.