On the bank of Lake Chad . SOURCE: UNFPA

Abimbola Akosile unveils a strategy to ensure improved development in the countries around the Lake Chad basin (Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria), which is being spear-headed by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Regional Office for West and Central Africa headed by the Regional Director, Mr. Mabingue Ngom, and other development experts; with focus on the Demographic Dividend and the need to address the security and humanitarian crisis in the area

All countries surrounding Lake Chad are prone to security and humanitarian crisis, accentuated by regular attacks perpetrated by terrorist groups, according to reports and analyses by experts.

From kidnappings to summary executions, through the systematic destruction of schools and health centres, the asymmetric conflict brought by terrorist groups has not only resulted in several millions of displaced persons and the impoverishment of the most vulnerable populations – especially women and youth.

The document titled ‘From Crisis to Development Around Lake Chad: Strategy for an Integrated, Holistic and Sustainable Response’ aims to bring clarity on the multiplicity of the underlying dynamics, which gives pertinence to this alternative and which justifies the implementation of a targeted action that extends beyond military action, within which demography is an essential and structuring variable.

This strategy is based on the situation analysis of the same countries mentioned in ‘Demographic Dynamics and the Crisis of Countries around Lake Chad’, produced in-house by the UNFPA Regional Office for West and Central Africa. In particular, the notion of the demographic dividend was brought to the fore as a paradigm likely to structure the action, not only within a perspective of conflict resolution but also of development.

The relevance of population in the specific context of the countries around Lake Chad was explained and the strategic considerations concerning the action taken were proposed. Here, the objective is to attract the attention of decision-makers on the necessity of a continuum between humanitarian action and strategy for development, in line with the integrated vision of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development.

Devt Challenges

Like the sub-region of the Sahel, the countries around Lake Chad are within an area of high demographic growth. The region’s demographic growth is indeed one of the highest in the world. In 50 years, the population of those countries has more than quadrupled from 60 million in 1960 to more than 243 million inhabitants in 2017.

Furthermore, the region is facing climatic changes, which aggravate the pressure on the land, agriculture, fisheries and water resources. The size of Lake Chad is only a tenth of what it was fifty years ago. With its surface being only 2,500 square kilometres in 2017, fishing and agriculture has been reduced drastically.

In a context of an economy that barely transformed itself, is reliant on extensive subsistence activities like fishing and agriculture, these pressures result, once again, from a very high population growth rate, reinforced by the fact that the border area around Lake Chad is also a stopover zone for aspiring migrants towards Europe.

The depletion of farmland and water resources, coupled with the lack of evolution in the structure of the local economies and of a non-sustainable demographic growth over time, is an expected source of tension.

Vital Foreword

In a foreword to the strategy document, the UNFPA Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Mr. Mabingue Ngom noted that “The response to humanitarian crises and its relation with general issues of economic and social development, have been on the agenda of several meetings that I was part of while in the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) first as the Director of the Division of the programmes in charge of emergency issues and development at the global level, and subsequently as Regional Director for West and Central Africa.

“The meetings of the inter-agencies committee coordinated by Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) also offered an opportunity to reflect on the initiatives implemented as a response to recent humanitarian crises in the world, specifically in the countries around Lake Chad.

“On all these occasions, we advocated to have issues related to the dynamics of demography to be given greater consideration by those concerned about the security environment in West and Central Africa, that is, in countries around Lake Chad where the demographic growth is still high. We specifically supported this approach during the Oslo 24 February 2017 donors’ roundtable on Nigeria and region around the Lake Chad Basin, which was a success in the mobilisation of resources”, the development expert added.

However, according to him, “despite the general consensus that emerged regarding the need to tackle the root causes of the conflicts, one cannot help but notice that progress remains constrained. Clearly, to date the prescribed solutions to stamp out the crisis are far from optimal.

“Much of the funding continues to be directed towards humanitarian response (65%) and recovery (30%) at the expense of prevention, which comprises only 5 per cent of the allocated funds. This allocation will continue being inefficient given that it does not guarantee durable solutions to the crisis. Thus, there is a clear need to envisage a balance in the allocation of the humanitarian funds.”
Ngom noted that a more balanced, more strategic and less costly response, through interventions that better target the root causes of the crisis rather than the symptoms would in the long run be best.

“The document elaborating this strategy was produced with the support of Professor Alioune Sall with collaboration from colleagues of the UNFPA Regional Office for West and Central Africa.

“It is the result of an open reflection on the crisis in countries around Lake Chad (namely, Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria) and is based on an analytical situation of these countries. It gives us the opportunity to cast a critical eye on the efficiency of the response that affects the countries surrounding Lake Chad.”

To the UNFPA chieftain, “the data, evidence and our experiences compel us to think that peace, security, stability and the development of the countries around Lake Chad remain essentially dependent on the acceleration of a demographic transition, without which we will continue to see rapid increases in social demand.

“The strategic approach proposed in this document shows the need to move towards a more holistic and integrated approach, collectively with all the stakeholders including the governments of the affected countries, to order to attain sustainable development. Such an approach based on a theory of change will help to reduce the verticality of the humanitarian and development programmes in this region as well as deliver an efficient, concrete, comprehensive and more durable response to the inherent needs of the affected populations.

“Potentially as an innovation of the 2030 Agenda, this strategy could begin around the « One UN » approach–through the implementation of a joint programme between the agencies of the United Nations system. Later, while continuing to work with the four countries surrounding Lake Chad in the experimental phase, it could broaden up to other partners in support of the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS)”, Ngom added.