The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator today reminded the world to pay attention to the Lake Chad Basin, now an epicentre of “violence and terror” where children as young as six-years old have been used as suicide bombers and the scene of the fastest-growing displacement crisis in Africa.
“A quarter of a million people have fled across borders,” Stephen O’Brien, the Under-Secretary-General of Humanitarian Affairs as well as the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator told the High-Level Event on the Lake Chad Basin. “Many have walked hundreds of kilometres from Nigeria to Cameroon, Chad and Niger, in the most appalling conditions.”
Mr. O’Brien, who convened the meeting at UN Headquarters in New York on the sidelines of the UN Sustainable Development Summit, which opened today, appealed to countries in the region to give relief workers access to those in need and also called for urgent financial contributions to the under-funded operations.
“If we disregard the huge scale of humanitarian needs, we could all pay a high price,” he said.
Describing the people in the Lake Chad Basin, which straddles Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, as “some of the poorest and most resilient in the world,” the top UN humanitarian official said “now the region has also become an epicentre of violence and terror.”
“The emergence of Boko Haram has pushed them over the edge,” he said. “Over the past five months, a sharp increase in attacks by Boko Haram has uprooted 500,000 children, bringing the total number of children on the run in northeast Nigeria and neighbouring countries to over 1.4 million.”
He described the “appalling impact on women and children, who are being abducted, abused, raped, exploited, trafficked, and forced to work as porters and lookouts,” and “children as young as six years old have been used as suicide bombers.”
“With so many other humanitarian crises on the international agenda, we hear relatively little about the horrors taking place in the Lake Chad Basin,” he said. “And yet this is the scene of the fastest-growing displacement crisis in Africa, with 2.3 million people forced from their homes since May 2013.”
Mr. O’Brien warned that the future of the region, where business activity is reportedly down by 80 percent, “looks even bleaker, as farmers are unable to tend their fields and trade in some areas is at a standstill.”
UN agencies like the World Food Programme, the UN refugee agency and the UN Children’s Programme (UNICEF) echoed Mr. O’Brien in presenting a grim humanitarian picture of the region and appealing for greater international support to their efforts to reach those in desperate need.