Taking on the Challenges of the Lake Chad Region, Together

On July 11, I traveled to Cameroon and Chad. I wanted to call attention to those affected by Boko Haram violence and to do so alongside two strong allies: the European Union and the humanitarian agencies of the United Nations. When tackling the stark challenges faced by displaced people in the Sahel and other crisis zones, working together, pooling our resources and sharing expertise can have a much bigger impact.

The Chad Basin is a swath of land centered on Lake Chad in Northern Central Africa that includes parts of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. In this region, Boko Haram’s malicious attacks have destroyed communities, disrupted farming and fishing, terrorized civilians and forced millions to flee. 

On my recent trip, I met with humanitarian leaders, traveled to refugee and internally displaced persons (IDP) camps and heard directly from people whose villages had been attacked by Boko Haram. In Cameroon, I traveled with Toby Lanzer, the United Nations' (UN) Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel. We flew to the far north of the country, to speak to Nigerian refugees in the Minawao camp. The camp had opened only three years earlier, but now was a sprawling settlement of nearly 57,000 people, all helped by aid workers from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Food Program (WFP), and other top aid agencies. In Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, I announced on behalf of the United States an additional $27 million dollars in funding to assist the region, bringing total U.S. government humanitarian support to the Lake Chad Basin for fiscal years 2015 and 2016 to $281 million. This new funding will help reduce the suffering of 2.7 million displaced people by providing them with basics like clean water, shelter, and health care.

In Yaounde, Cameroon, Assistant Secretary Anne Richard announces nearly $27 million in new humanitarian assistance to support those affected by Boko Haram violence across the Lake Chad Basin region. [State Department Photo]

In Chad we met up with Christos Stylianides, European Union (EU) Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management. Together we visited people affected by the crisis and spoke with local, national and international officials.

Traveling together to the Bol area of Chad, we met people who mourned the deaths of friends and loved ones to Boko Haram. They also missed their homes and the life they had led. At home, they were able to fish and farm so that they had plenty to eat and enough left over to take across nearby borders to sell in Northeast Nigeria. Now, trade routes had been cut and they crowded together on a small plot of land. They farmed in whatever small areas went unused by the community that had taken them in. The only compensation for the death, displacement and loss was that their children now, at least, were going to school.

We cannot undo the damage and cruelty unleashed by Boko Haram. We cannot erase the nightmares that torment its victims. But those who struggle should know that they are not alone. Until peace is restored, governments and international organizations will work together to provide life-saving aid. And as we look ahead to the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees that President Obama will host at the United Nations in September, government officials, aid agencies, businesses, the media, the public -- all of us--must ask: can we do more? In the face of a brutal insurgency and daunting logistical hurdles, greater cooperation among the United States, United Nations, European Union, and many dedicated humanitarians can make a difference and save many lives. 

About the Author: Anne C. Richard serves as the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration at the U.S. Department of State.

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Assistant Secretary Anne Richard stands in front of a plane with UN Assistant Secretary General Toby Lanzer and EU Commissioner Christos Stylianides after visiting Internally Displaced Persons in Chad [State Department Photo].
Posted by Anne C. Richard
August 3, 2016

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