Lake Chad, a destination that doesn’t inspire much in the imagination for most people, let alone do most know where it can be found on a map. But certainly by mention alone, one can deduct that it is a body of water - winner takes the prize if they recognise that it is in Africa, given the name of the nation it finds itself in.
In fact, a lake would be further from the truth - Lake Chad has become nothing more than a puzzle of ponds and lagoons of what once was a large body of water in Sehalian Africa. A lake which has been shrinking since the 1960’s due to rapid global climate change. But that's not the crisis we're here to talk about.
What Lake Chad should do is inspire images of one of the worst humanitarian crises taking place on earth at this very moment. Images that reflect more than 2.3 million people across four countries completely displaced by violence from Boko Haram militants who have pillaged, raped, burnt, kidnapped and terrorised their way across the Northern Nigerian State of Borno and into neighbouring Niger, Cameroon, and of course Chad.
Many of the displaced people live with no access to food, health services or even basic amenities like toilets. According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the soaring food insecurity has left 7.1 million people without access to food (both displaced people and locals trying to support them) with 515,000 suffering from severe malnutrition. Former UN Humanitarian Regional Coordinator for the Sahel Toby Lanzer stated, half of those children will die by end of year if no assistance is given. NGO’s and humanitarian organisations are working on the ground but the amount of resources available to provide assistance is limited, or more often, dwindling.
So why haven’t we heard of this nightmare taking place? Surely we know of the terror that is Boko Haram, the same group that kidnapped 276 school girls in 2014 from the town of Chibok in Borno State. The girls were taken in the middle of the night and forced into servitude or marriages with group leaders. Now of course, that gained widespread media attention after the former US First Lady Michelle Obama expressed her solidarity with the Nigerian people on social media by holding up a poster bearing the slogan “#BringBackOurGirls” which subsequently went viral.
Fast forward to today and 196 of the 276 are still missing (many have escaped or been released in groups). Boko Haram’s aggression has intensified and spread into the Sahel and what was once just a Nigerian issue, has now become an African dilemma.
But this doesn’t explain why the crises is still so under-reported. Have we as a global community become insensitive to it? I think we’ve now become overwhelmed by conflicts encircling us globally.
The situation in Lake Chad is the United Nation’s fourth humanitarian crises with the war in Syria, famine in Somalia, conflict in Yemen, Central African Republic’s dilemma, among others vying for space in the news and the top slot in the humanitarian agenda. The international community cannot possibly respond and give equal attention to every single humanitarian crises as they happen - there are far too many.
Can it be fixed?
In order to bring an end to the humanitarian crises, it’s vital that Boko Haram is defeated; famine and food insecurity will never end if the conflict does not end. But waiting around for western powers or other international bodies to do something would be a huge mistake.
Relying on international bodies or key powers abroad to come to the rescue will only spell trouble for those affected and lead to further neglect and chaos. Take the conflict in Syria, where everyone who watched the siege of Aleppo in horror last year, the response was simply, “why isn’t the world responding?”.
The Lake Chad Crisis cannot afford the luxury of waiting around for international help, a pan-African response is required.
If anything, the spilling of Boko Haram into other Sehalian states should be a wakeup call to the African Union that this is a greater African problem it has the potential to spread. And to such a problem, an African response is required. It would be a grave mistake to assume that because of Nigeria’s oil wealth, it has the resources quell the conflict. Borno state is one of Nigeria’s least developed states and according to a recent report from Oxfam, the recent drop in oil prices and the devaluing of the Nigerian Naira as a result of agricultural scarcity reduces Nigeria’s capacity to adequately respond to the crisis. Niger, Chad and Cameroon are already burdened with their own economic problems, so leaving these countries to work with Nigeria, would only delay an adequate response.
The African Union or other key players in the continent (Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Algeria and South Africa to name a few) need to form a coalition to work at increasing local resources to combat Boko Haram progression. They need to work with Sehalian governments to build further capacity in responding to the crisis and assist in endeavors to locate and rescue both the missing Chibok girls and other victims of Boko Haram (an effort which former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has been widely criticised for failing to do and of which current President Mohammadu Buhari is being put to the test).
The affected countries like Nigeria need to work with cooperative governments by providing easy (and secure) access to affected areas, and to reach key influencers in the conflict while also working with Borno State. Within Borno State they must encourage local communities to welcome the rescued Chibok girls back into society - many rescued survivors have reported being rejected by their community for “allowing” themselves to be sexually violated by the group, a prevalent social stigma.
As Oxfam reported in their recent report, there is currently no end in sight to Lake Chad’s “unseen” crisis. But when nobody comes to your aid, it’s time for you to fend for yourself. And it’s time for Africa to do just that.