Lake Chad is split between the borders of Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria and lies in the arid Sahel region. A mixture of violent extremism, climate phenomena such as droughts and government neglect have resulted in the area around the lake being one of the most underdeveloped regions in the world. A ciritcal humanitarian situation has reigned for the past few years. In 2020, over half of the region's 17 million people needed humanitarian assistance and 2.5 million were internally displaced. 3.6 million people lived with acute food insecurity including 500,000 children who suffered from severe malnutrition. This situation is made worse by the persistent threat of Boko Haram and other violent extremist groups in the area. Since 2011 more than 37,500 people have died as a result of violent conflict in the region.
"In essence, three separate but inter-related and mutually reinforcing crises have converged in the same locale: a structural and persistent development deficit; a breakdown of the social contract that has manifested in lawlessness and a violent extremist insurgency; and an unfolding environmental disaster that cannot be stopped"
– AU Regional Strategy for the Stabilisation, Recovery and Resilience of the Boko Haram Affected Areas of the Lake Chad Basin
Although the conflict is a major cause of the current humanitarian situation, the causes of both the conflict and the humanitarian situation are more complex. Because the communities in the basin live at their countries’ peripheries, they have been persistently neglected and underdeveloped over the decades. Poverty, inequality and corruption lead to a lack of trust between these communities and their governments, which helps armed opposition groups gain support. In addition, climate change has resulted in rising temperatures, unpredictable rainfall patterns and increased drought incidence. Together with population growth, these factors have resulted in tension between farmers, pastoralists and fishermen, increasing stress on livelihoods all round. Together, this cocktail of conflict, underdevelopment and livelihood stress makes it difficult for communities to adapt to climate change or develop, creating a vicious cycle. In this fraught situation, extremist groups are able to recruit vulnerable young men, further worsening the situation. The Lake Chad region is a tragic example of what can happen if communities in vulnerable areas of the world are not supported to adapt to climate change.
Recognising the danger of the situation, the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) and the African Union created the Regional Strategy for the Stabilisation, Recovery and Resilience of the Boko Haram Affected Areas of the Lake Chad Basin in 2018. As well as a military cooperation plan to better combat Boko Haram the strategy also explicitly includes provisions for strengthening community resilience and adaptive capacity. As part of this, the construction of forest protection offices was authorised in order to preserve local flora and fauna. To reduce livelihood stress, thousands of households are being provided with alternate livelihood options, for example a cash for work scheme in northern Cameroon. On the infrastructure side, solar powered streetlights have been built in Niger and in Damboa, Nigeria, a new water supply system has been built.
Overall, the strategy does well to recognise the multifaceted and complex nature of the problems in the region and has made the first steps towards improving the situation. If the strategy works, then the climate security practices implemented will help to secure livelihoods not only in the short term, but the adaptive capacity they engender will ensure that the communities have the resilience to weather future shocks. However, as of March 2021, the UN estimates that only one 25th of the funding necessary to stabilise the region has been invested. The strategy has relied on nations and international partners to provide funding and although some projects have been carried out, there is still a large hole in the funding necessary. As a result, the UN forecasts that the crisis has no end in sight.
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Picture Credit: Sentinel Hub/ Flickr