Our Perspectives

Tackling the crisis in the Lake Chad Basin


Part of UNDP's response to the crisis is providing skills training for women, who make up 54 percent of those displaced by the conflict in north-east Nigeria. Photo: UNDP Nigeria

Last May, the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (USCFR) organized a briefing session on the situation in the Sahel region of Africa.

During the session UNDP stressed the need for broad, concerted action to confront violent extremism and bring development solutions to the region affected by the Boko Haram insurgency that originated in Nigeria’s north-east seven years ago.

It identified an “arc of instability” that stretches across the Sahel, the Horn of Africa and the Lake Chad Basin.

As UNDP and partners gather in Oslo for the International Humanitarian Conference on 24 February, we intend to focus on the situation in Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin with heightened urgency.

As an organization with deep knowledge gained through practical experience in the field, UNDP firmly believes that an all-encompassing response is the best way to resolve this crisis. However, solutions must also be tailored to each country's specific needs.

Observers readily admit the Lake Chad Basin situation has been egregiously overlooked. The crisis could affect the security, economic, environmental and institutional integrity of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

Boko Haram has already claimed more than 35,000 lives and caused the displacement of 1.8 million people from north-eastern Nigeria.

More than 10.7 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, and famine is estimated to have already affected 65,000 people. Without urgent action, this figure could rise to 120,000 by mid-year.

In Cameroon, 200,000 people have been forced to flee their homes and close to 3 million people are expected to need humanitarian assistance this year.

Compounding these factors is the environmental tragedy of Lake Chad. Due to climate change and high demand for water, the lake has shrunk to a twentieth of the size it was in 1963.

The result is degraded ecosystems, water shortages, crop failures, livestock deaths, collapsed fisheries, increased soil salinity and, as a result, increased poverty.

UNDP, its fellow UN organizations and humanitarian agencies on the ground are at the forefront of the crisis response and have stepped up coordination.

Together they have provided effective and coordinated recovery assistance to the government and population in north-eastern Nigeria, notably in the epicentre of the crisis in the town of Maiduguri, Borno Sate.

The Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), established by the Lake Chad Basin countries to combat Boko Haram, has managed to significantly curtail the capabilities of the militant group. Nevertheless, the group’s attacks remain persistent and its tactical sophistication has increased.

Going into the Oslo summit, cynics might be tempted to say that this is just another humanitarian conference. This time, however, a business as usual approach will not do.

The Lake Chad Basin crisis brings into sharp focus the consequences of years of missed development opportunities in a key region whose historic economic model was subverted during the colonial period.

For that reason, we must guard against limiting our response to immediate humanitarian concerns only.

Likewise, if we only pay attention to the security dimension of the crisis we will overlook the root causes of the region’s troubles.

Humanitarian actors must be mindful of the growing concerns raised by the securitization of aid. Some partners feel this focus on combating extremism comes at the expense of other dimensions of development. The securitizing instinct can be heavy on conditionality and light on long-term solutions.

No single organization is big enough to tackle the multidimensional crisis in the Lake Chad Basin alone. We need a multi-stakeholder response, drawing on our collective expertise in political engagement, early recovery, socio-economic development, law enforcement and conservation.

UNDP, for its part, stands ready to work with all actors to bring about change.


This article first appeared in the Financial Times' This is Africa magazine.

Blog post Chad Abdoulaye Mar Dieye Migration and displacement Africa Prevention of violent extremism Poverty reduction and inequality Climate change and disaster risk reduction Nigeria Economic recovery Ecosystems and biodiversity

UNDP Around the world