Hunger grips Lake Chad Basin in the face of terrorism

The Lake Chad Basin Governors’ Forum must prioritise the perfect storm threatening its stability and development plans.

©Institute for Security Studies

Despite years of humanitarian assistance, hunger and malnutrition in the Lake Chad Basin have reached alarming levels this year. Underpinning the crisis is insecurity linked to Boko Haram and the effects of climate change, COVID-19 and the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

On 1 June, Chad’s government officially declared a ‘food and nutrition emergency.’ The Humanitarian Response Plan of March 2022 predicted that more than 5.3 million people, 50% of whom were women, would be threatened by food insecurity in Chad this year.

According to the plan, more than a third of the population in 17 of the country’s 23 provinces are affected, with a ‘prevalence rate of 10.9% of global acute malnutrition and 2% of severe acute malnutrition.’ Although the whole country feels the impact, the situation is worst in the Sahel provinces, including Lac, where 20% to 25% of the population is threatened.

The food situation in Cameroon is also dire. According to the framework presented by the agriculture and rural development minister on 18 May, more than 2.8 million people, or 11% of the country’s population, are in an acute food crisis. Food insecurity is particularly prevalent in the country’s poorest Far North region, affecting around 5% of the population.

Because violent extremism has endured for so long, hunger seems to have become banal

Niger’s authorities announced in February that about 4.4 million people – about 20% of the population – were in a state of severe food insecurity. This situation is more alarming in the conflict zones, including the Diffa Region.

Although Nigeria hasn’t issued any official appeals for aid or declared an emergency this year, the United Nations estimates that over four million people are affected by the food crisis in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states.

Terrorism is the main cause of food insecurity in the Lake Chad Basin, with repeated attacks by Boko Haram splinter groups Jama’atu Ahlis-Sunnah Lidda’Awati Wal-Jihad and the Islamic State West Africa Province. In some assaults, food is stolen and farmers are prevented from accessing their land. Because the insurgency has gone on for so long, hunger seems to have become banal, especially in areas that have endured atrocities for over a decade.

There are also recurrent inter-communal clashes resulting from the exploitation of natural resources. These conflicts force people to flee, disrupting trade and agro-pastoral activities. As a result, production levels have fallen drastically, and foodstuff circulation is hampered, leading to price hikes. As the situation worsens, communities face a precarious situation that hinders the region's search for stability and development.

Dependence on humanitarian aid grows, while fundraising becomes increasingly difficult

Research shows that high temperatures and disrupted rainfall cycles due to climate change also limit food production in Lake Chad Basin. Not only are rainy seasons and days shortened, but droughts have become more regular, and floods remain recurrent.

Communities that can still produce food – because they live in safe areas – find themselves in a continuous state of uncertainty regarding rainfall. The succession of droughts and floods has a cumulative impact on production levels. In some areas, like Cameroon’s Far North, crop pests such as granivorous birds, grasshoppers and armyworms add to these difficulties. The situation this year is already catastrophic due to heavy rainfall causing floods in numerous regions.

In 2020 and 2021, COVID-19 also contributed to an economic slowdown, resulting in lower daily incomes and limited employment opportunities. The effects were exacerbated by the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war between some of the world’s biggest suppliers of basic foodstuffs and fertilisers, particularly to Africa. Supply disruptions are causing food and fertiliser prices to soar, damaging future agricultural yields.

A Famine Early Warning Systems Network report on food security published in May notes that in most Far North rural markets in Cameroon, 50 kg of NPK mineral fertilisers were sold for 10-15% more than in 2020 and 2021.

Communities’ living standards are eroding as people struggle to maintain a minimum level of production to withstand the food security crisis. Dependence on humanitarian assistance continues to grow while fundraising becomes increasingly difficult.

Innovative long-term responses are needed that improve the adaptability of production methods

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, for the current year, only 21% of the US$2.57 billion needed for humanitarian aid in the Lake Chad Basin has been secured. The Lake Chad Basin Regional Stabilization Strategy says the humanitarian situation must improve urgently to enable communities to bounce back and development to begin.

Providing emergency food aid could save lives in the short term but isn’t enough for those already in a food crisis. Innovative long-term responses are needed that improve the adaptability of production methods. These could include better irrigation systems, developing more polders and introducing adapted technology and crop varieties.

To increase the local availability of food items, Lake Chad Basin countries should facilitate the circulation of locally produced or imported foodstuffs. They should also secure the main food trade routes in the region. Existing roads, many of which are deteriorating, need to be rehabilitated, as is the case for the Garoua-Maroua-Kousséri-N’Djamena axis.

Sustainable solutions to the hunger crisis should be part of the global Lake Chad Basin-African Union stabilisation agenda. They should also be priority items for the upcoming Lake Chad Basin Governors’ Forum in N’Djamena. The high-level event brings together local, national, regional and international actors involved in implementing the regional stabilisation strategy.

Remadji Hoinathy, Senior Researcher, ISS Regional Office for West Africa, the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin, Dakar and Celestin Delanga, ISS Consultant

Image: © Giulio d’Adamo/WFP

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Development partners
This article was produced with the support of the governments of the Netherlands and Norway. The ISS is also grateful for support from the members of the ISS Partnership Forum: the Hanns Seidel Foundation, the European Union, the Open Society Foundations and the governments of Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.
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