Millions of lives at risk in West Africa’s Lake Chad Basin

Published: 23rd February 2017

Aid agencies today warned that lives are at risk unless there is a substantial increase in funds to help over seven million people facing hunger in Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

The warning from Oxfam and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) comes as the UN, governments and donors meet in Oslo, Norway to pledge funds to tackle the crisis that wracks an area known as the Lake Chad Basin. The UN has appealed for $1.5 billion to meet the emergency needs in 2017. Last year’s appeal was only 52 per cent funded.

Pauline Ballaman, Oxfam’s head of operations in the Lake Chad Basin area, said: “The risk of famine is real in parts of northern Nigeria. Millions of people have been pushed to the brink after years of conflict. Unable to grow or buy food, or get the help they desperately need, many have died.

"Aid has managed to make some people's lives better - but without urgent funding and access to areas where people are cut off from aid, we could see levels of hunger and malnutrition deteriorate further and many more lives lost."

Over the last four years the conflict with Boko Haram has intensified and spread from North East Nigeria across the border into Niger, Chad and Cameroon.  Over 2.6 million people – of which 1.5 million are children – have fled their homes in search of safety and nearly 11 million people are in need of emergency aid.  In Borno State in northeast Nigeria, at least 400,000 people could be living in famine-like conditions.

Nigerian government forces have recaptured territory from Boko Haram and previously cut off areas are now more accessible revealing huge levels of suffering. But the security situation remains fragile and violence continues to make it difficult for Oxfam and other agencies to get help to all the people who need it.  Some areas remain completely inaccessible to humanitarian organizations because of ongoing military operations or because they are still under the control of Boko Haram

Meanwhile the government has announced it intends to close all camps hosting displaced people by May 2017. Many of them are already returning to areas still surrounded by fighting. Some find their home villages are still too dangerous, leaving them to seek shelter in nearby towns where there is often widespread destruction and few services or assistance available.

Cheick Ba, Country Director for NRC Nigeria, said: “We are seeing convoys of displaced people being moved back into towns the government recently reclaimed, even as fresh violence in the surrounding areas forces more people to flee. People tell us they want to go home, but only when it’s safe. We need to hear real commitment from the authorities that no one will be encouraged to go home until there is lasting security and basic services have been restored.”

People continue to experience horrific levels of human rights abuses and threats including sexual violence, abductions, killings, torture, forced recruitment, forced disappearance and arbitrary detention. In North East Nigeria, nearly one in three women report having experienced sexual violence.

Military and political objectives in the fight against Boko Haram have trumped humanitarian concerns. Collectively, governments, humanitarian organizations, and donors were slow to respond to this crisis. A large humanitarian operation is now underway and many lives have been saved. But without a massive injection of aid many lives could be lost.

Notes to editors

1. For full details of the Oslo Humanitarian Conference on Nigeria and the Lake Chad Region:

There will be a Civil Society meeting in advance of the Oslo Humanitarian Conference on Nigeria and the Lake Chad Region on 23 February
Jan Egeland, Secretary General, NRC, will be moderating a panel on Protection and Humanitarian Access at which both Maher Youssef, Access Coordinator, NRC Nigeria and Kathryn Achilles, Humanitarian Campaign Manager, Oxfam Nigeria will be speaking.

2. 30 organisations have published a joint statement on what governments, UN, NGOs and donors need to do to help: Seven Steps to Saving Lives in the Lake Chad region conflict.

Download Seven Steps to Saving Lives and Assisting People in Nigeria and Lake Chad Basin here
The points laid out by the Seven Steps to Saving Lives plan include:

  • Put protection of civilians at the centre of response
  • Scale-up the food and nutrition response in Nigeria and the region
  • Increase access to more, better and safe quality education
  • Safeguard humanitarian space: safe movement to reach more people in need
  • Strengthen leadership of the response and improve humanitarian coordination
  • Ensure all returns are safe, voluntary and dignified
  • Build resilience and increase local capacity

3. The following NGOs have signed the Seven Steps joint statement:

  • ActionAid Nigeria
  • Action Against Hunger
  • CARE International
  • Center for Civilians in Conflict
  • Christian Aid
  • COOPI - Cooperazione Internazionale
  • Concern Worldwide
  • Caritas Internationalis
  • Caritas Norway
  • Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe
  • eHealth Africa
  • GAIN
  • International Rescue Committee
  • Medecins Du Monde
  • Mercy Corps
  • Norwegian Church Aid
  • Norwegian Refugee Council
  • Plan International
  • Refugees International
  • Save the Children
  • Search for Common Ground
  • SIF - Secours Islamique France
  • Street Child
  • Tearfund
  • Welthungerhilfe
  • World University Service (WUS)
  • World Vision International
  • ZOA

Contact information

For interviews and further information, please contact:
At Oxfam:
Christina Corbett | Regional Media Lead | Lake Chad Basin Crisis | | +234 (0) 802 896 8039 | +234 (0) 907 461 7371
(Ian Bray | +44 (0)1865 472289 | +44 (0)7721 461339)

For updates, please follow @Oxfam.

The public can donate to Oxfam's response.
At the Norwegian Refugee Council:
Tuva Raanes Bogsnes | Head of Media and Communication | | +47 93231883. We have staff in north-eastern Nigeria available for interview.