With Better Co-ordination, Humanitarian Crisis in the  North-east is Fading Away, Says Olatunbosun Alakija


North-east is Fading Away, Says Olatunbosun Alakija

As the humanitarian crisis in the North-east of Nigeria worsened, drawing global attention to the plight of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the region, the federal government established the Emergency Coordination Center (ECC) to coordinate the emergency responses from a the motley crowd of government and local as well as international Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) and aid agencies. Dr. Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, a social activist and humanitarian, brought to oversee this effort, as Chief Humanitarian Coordinator, speaks to Bolaji Adebiyi on the progress made so far

The Emergency Coordination Centre was established to coordinate responses to the humanitarian needs of the North-east of Nigeria. How has the centre 

fared in its last three months of operation?  

There was an identified gap in information sharing, coordination, both between and within sectors, necessary to facilitate an immediate scale up of the humanitarian response to save lives. The ECC is a living breathing space, some describe it as a ‘war room’ with data, maps and information all over walls and windows, constantly changing almost daily as the situation evolves. We have maps from live google images telling us about the displacement of peoples, on a weekly basis. There is a live video link up with offices in the field, especially in Maiduguri. It has enabled trouble shooting at 1am in the morning, when aid convoys have been under fire from insurgents and other emergency situations. It means that we get very little sleep but it truly has been the critical enabler of our Nigerian response.

It was early in October, within a 72-hour time frame that we established and operationalized a 24-hour Emergency Coordination Center, which is supported by USAID/OFDA. This information-sharing and collaborative space was essential as it has allowed over 2,000 humanitarian stakeholders to meet and work towards concerted and rapid solutions to the crises in the North-east.

The ECC team facilitated the Humanitarian Needs Overview/Humanitarian Response Plan for Nigeria within this unit. This HRP was recently launched at the UN Headquarters in Geneva. The HNO/HRP process has set the foundation for both Nigerian and international humanitarian actors with regards to scaling up of life saving activities. On the global scene, it is currently being described as international best practice, we have somehow managed to find the opportunity for Nigeria to excel within a crisis.

In spite of the billions of naira from the federal government and local and international donor agencies that have gone into the alleviation of the sufferings of the victims of the insurgency, the region still slipped into humanitarian crisis. What would you say is responsible for this?

I’d say the main reason why we slipped into a humanitarian crisis was because we were late to the table. We didn’t recognize the issue and gather around to tackle it fast enough. Now that we’re here though, we are confident that this humanitarian crisis can be arrested, and prevented from becoming a chronic humanitarian crisis. We have developed a humanitarian response plan for Nigeria, both for the international community and a mirror image plan has been created for Nigeria.

In what specific ways has the centre tackled this? And what improvements would you say have been made?

In the last three months since the establishment of the ECC we have seen significant progress, an over fivefold increase in numbers of people reached, with food and medical interventions. A rapid response mechanism (RRM) has been set up, with multi agency partnerships taking food, medicines and planned agricultural interventions to communities at the same time. There is innovation, but most of all, there is great compassion and a speedy response has been deployed. We have been able to bring in three cargo planes of humanitarian relief directly into Maiduguri for immediate deployment into the field. Food distribution has gone up from 165,000 when we began this project in September, to 1.01 million in December with a projected 1.8 million for the month of January. It has been noted internationally that there has never been a scale up of this magnitude achieved within such a short time frame. The ECC has also resulted in a better coordinated approach to the humanitarian response by creating an information sharing platform which helps ensure that there’s no duplication of efforts thereby maximizing resources use.

Last year, 4.7 million of the 7 million people estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance in the North-eastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe were targeted. What is the scorecard in terms of the number of people actually reached?

The 2016 humanitarian response was a very successful one. In several sectors, we met and exceeded the number of people targeted for humanitarian assistance. The crucial food assistance for example, we set out to provide food assistance to 1,500,000 people but as of Dec 24th, we had assisted 1,568,850 people – a 104.6% achievement score. This rate is similar across all the entire sectors. That said, we recognize that there is still a lot of people in need and that is why we have decided to scale up our efforts to reach even more people in 2017. In comparison to the 1.5 million people targeted for food assistance in 2016, we have increased that number to 5.1 million people for 2017.

The target figure for 2016 was 6.9 million of the estimated 8.5 million in need of humanitarian assistance. Given the success rate for 2015, what are the assurances of a better result this year?

The level of all humanitarian actors’ involvement and dedication to the humanitarian response has increased. This is one of the things that the ECC platform has been able to achieve and has already began to see practical results. In December 2015 alone, we fed 1.01 million people. To put it in perspective, as of October last year, only about 100,000 people were reached monthly. In a meeting with the international community, I asked them to send us their A-Teams and they did. We utilized the manpower and resources at our disposal to coordinate a global best practice response to a crisis. We will take the dedication and commitment through 2017 to meet and exceed our targets

Funding is obviously a big issue. The 2015 requirement was $484m out of which $367m was received, allowing for the funding of 40 % of the response plan. The requirement for 2016 plan was $1b. What hopes are there for improved funding?

As a matter of fact, as of 9th December last year, $421 million has been raised of the $484million needed. That said, the global humanitarian needs are enormous and the funds available for meeting the needs are not often readily available. To meet the required funding for the 2017 HRP, we are in close contact with donors and engage them frequently to ensure that our needs are met. At the launch of the 2017 HRP in Geneva, the Honourable Minister of State, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, made an appeal to the international community to support the relief efforts in Nigeria. This appeal has been heeded and we have seen increased activity by donors and INGOs alike. Around 75 partners are expected to participate in last year’s efforts. Coordinating these huge size of aid providers certainly has its challenges. What are your plans in this regard?

At the ECC, we carry out activities like the Humanitarian Coordination Working Group Meetings, Workshops, donor briefings to keep all stakeholders in the loop of activities, both at state and federal levels as well as local and international. We have a live feed that allows us to keep in close contact with the Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator as well as state level actors in Borno State.  In addition, we work closely with the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs whose key roles include coordination and information management which allows our partners to be able to key into our activities. It is a challenge but it is a task that has to be done. What is most critical to achieving a proper coordination is the effectiveness of information sharing amongst all the various actors on the field. Embedded in the HRP structure is a monitoring and evaluation mechanism that ensures progress of all actors is tracked and reported. This way, there is a seamless flow of information on who is doing what, where, when and how.

In what ways are the center’s operations different from the National Emergency Management Agency? And at what point do both meet?

The Humanitarian response plan that the ECC is championing is a very robust plan that cuts across 11 sectors (Food security, Nutrition, Health, Protection, Shelter, Education, WASH, Early Recovery and Livelihoods, Camp Management, Emergency Telecoms, Logistics and Coordination). NEMA is the government agency taking charge of the government responsibility in the shelter sector. We work with NEMA and SEMAs to ensure that we effectively cater for the need of those affected.

Finally, what have been the challenges faced by the centre and how is it meeting them?

The operations at the ECC has been hitch free so far. Our existence is so we can find solutions to challenges and our operational strategies have been up to the challenges so far. There is a direct satellite link with the Maiduguri EOC that is used to contact the ground team to troubleshoot issues; at the height of the aviation fuel scarcity, we have pulled together to source 119,000 litres so humanitarian flights can resume. To put it differently, the ECC exists to humanitarian response is faced with.