From increased international attention and donor support to improved local coordination, 2017 witnessed a lot of positive developments in the humanitarian response across north-east Nigeria. Amid major underlying challenges, humanitarian organisations worked around the clock to deliver life-saving aid to over 5 million of the most vulnerable conflict-affected women, children and men in the states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe.
The protection of civilians was a key priority in 2017, in addition to addressing the risk of famine, providing life-saving health and maternal services and mitigating the risk of disease through the provision of safe water and sanitation. The year was marked by the rapid scale-up of the humanitarian response by the United Nations and our partners, thanks to the overwhelming generosity of our donors. I am proud to say that by mid-2017 there were close to 3,000 aid workers operating in 26 locations in the north-east. Finally, by working closely with the Government of Nigeria we, the international community, have been able to increase and improve the delivery of humanitarian assistance to those in need in the north-east.
In the second half of 2016, the world awoke to the enormity of the north-east Nigeria humanitarian crisis, vastly neglected until then. This realisation translated into a massive scale-up of efforts and resources by international and local organisations during the first months of 2017. By mid-2017, there were close to 3,000 aid workers operating in 26 locations in the north-east, compared to only a few hundreds in 2016. In January 2017 alone, more than 1.2 million people received cash-based or in-kind food assistance, a major step toward tackling the looming risk of famine.
Tragically, the month was also marked by a bombing incident at the site for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Rann, Borno State, by a Nigerian Air Force jet. At least 54 persons were killed, including several aid workers, and hundreds were severely injured. Thanks to the UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) helicopters, managed by the World Food Programme (WFP), through 13 missions, emergency response teams were rapidly deployed, 967 kgs of medical cargo were delivered and 66 injured persons were evacuated to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, for treatment.
On 10 February, the OCHA-managed Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) allocated US$22 million to support the scale-up of the response in north-east Nigeria. On 24 February, the first ever international pledging Humanitarian Conference on Nigeria and the Lake Chad region took place in Oslo, Norway, re-positioning the crisis at the heart of international preoccupations. About 170 representatives, including members of the civil society, from 40 countries gathered and $672 million were pledged for 2017 and 2018. During the conference, the Nigeria Humanitarian Fund, one of 18 country-based pooled funds was launched to facilitate a prioritised, principled and timely funding of humanitarian projects.
The month also saw the official kick-off of the humanitarian hubs project with the opening of the very first one in Maiduguri on 22 February. The project is managed by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and as of December 2017, four hubs have been made operational in Dikwa, Bama, Gwoza and Ngala and another four are underway in Monguno, Banki, Damasak and Rann (all in Borno State). As these hubs offer safe and secure accommodation and Internet connectivity to aid workers in remote locations, they are critical in facilitating last-mile aid delivery.
On 31 March, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2349, condemning all terrorist attacks, violations of international humanitarian law and abuses of human rights by non-state armed groups in the Lake Chad basin. This helped refocus the world's attention on the harrowing atrocities of the region's conflict.
Since the start of hostilities in 2009, more than 20,000 people have been killed, thousands of women and girls abducted and children drafted as fighters and so-called "suicide" bombers. Up to 2.1 million people fled their homes at the height of the conflict, 1.7 million of whom are currently still internally displaced and close to 200,000 are still in Cameroon, Chad and Niger where they sought refuge. It is estimated that more than 900,000 people remain inaccessible to aid groups as of December 2017, in north-east Nigeria.
In just two months, April and May, close to 13,000 Nigerian refugees returned from Cameroon. This unexpected wave in returns created a massive surge in humanitarian needs in towns near the border like Banki and Pulka, particularly in terms of food, water, shelter and health services. Humanitarian organisations responded to the best of their capacities, all the while advocating to ensure that all returns were carried out in full respect of internationally recognised standards and principles of dignity, safety and voluntariness. According to a report from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), since 2015, more than 270,000 Nigerians driven by the conflict in the north-east have returned from Cameroon, Niger and Chad, 7 per cent of whom were reported to have returned against their will.
Between 15 and 19 May, the Government of Nigeria, with the support of international organisations including UNICEF, WFP and the World Health Orgsanization (WHO), carried out the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Week (MNCHW) campaign, in 42 areas of Borno and Yobe states. A massive drive by all organisations working on improving the nutrition situation in north-east Nigeria, the campaign was meant to ensure that micro-nutrient deficiency control reached as many children and pregnant or lactating women as possible in the two states. In May, the campaign delivered vitamin A supplementation to more than 1.2 million children aged 6 to 59 months, deworming treatment to some 950,000 children, and iron supplementation for about 290,000 pregnant women. Another MNCHW campaign is planned for early 2018.
The OCHA-managed Nigeria Humanitarian Fund (NHF), created during the February Oslo pledging conference, kicked off its first allocation on 16 June, with over $10.5 million for 13 selected projects. A second allocation followed in November with $13.4 million for 24 selected projects. The NHF, one of the world's 18 country-based pooled funds, plays a vital role in ensuring an effective, coordinated, prioritised and principled funding of the humanitarian response, with a strong focus on frontline responders. The fund is managed by and advisory board, chaired by the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria, Edward Kallon.
In June also, the federal Government of Nigeria launched its Special Relief Intervention for the North-East, which aimed to distribute 30,000 metric tons of food to 1.8 million IDPs, returnees and vulnerable people in host communities in the states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe.
From June through September, repeated heavy rains and wind storms damaged and destroyed hundreds of latrines, showers, shelters, and temporary learning spaces in IDP sites across the north-east. Many camps were flooded, increasing the risk of transmission of water-borne diseases, such as acute watery diarrhoea and cholera. Flooding also prevented road access to several areas, in particular Rann, near the border with Cameroon which remained hard to access as of December 2017.
With the rains, came also the hope for improved agricultural production for the year to come. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and WFP joined forces and, by the end of August, over 1.3 million farmers received inputs for agricultural production, such as fertilisers, improved seeds and tools. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) also carried out various agricultural input distributions. Throughout 2017, close to 200,000 farmers were trained on how to optimise their crops so they could sustain their food and nutrition needs in the long term. By October, which is the harvest season in north-east Nigeria, the metric ton production of maize, rice and millet had gone up compared to 2016 in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe and the overall proportion of food insecure households has decreased by 11 percentage points since March thanks to various factors (improved security, scale-up of food and livelihood assistance, favourable climatic conditions for agricultural production and slight market recovery). Nonetheless, conflict continues to limit the amount of land under cultivation and the food security situation remains of concern in 2018 and without continued assistance, the number of food insecure households could quickly increase.
To mark World Humanitarian Day, on 17 August, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Edward Kallon and Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator Peter Lundberg went to Bakasi camp, in Maiduguri, and met with internally displaced persons, adding their voices to the global #NotATarget call-for-action to protect civilians in conflict.
On 16 August, a cholera outbreak was declared in Borno State. By September, it had affected five locations: Maiduguri and Jere, Dikwa, Mafa, Monguno, and Guzamala. Health and water/sanitation actors, including WHO, UNFPA and UNICEF, mobilised immediately to open cholera treatment centres and oral rehydration points in IDP sites, desludge latrines, and sensitise communities on the importance of hand washing and other hygiene best practices. The outbreak was officially declared over on 21 December, with a toll of more than 5,000 cases and 61 deaths. Two cholera vaccination campaigns were carried out, reaching close to 1 million people, with the capacity to protect from cholera for up to three years.
In September, an agreement and action plan was signed between Child Protection actors and the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) to stop the recruitment and use of children by the armed group. The CJTF, a local group formed in 2013 to support the Nigerian security forces in the fight against armed opposition groups in north-east Nigeria and to protect local communities from attacks, was listed in the Secretary-General’s Annual Report for Children and Armed Conflict for its recruitment and use of children. Through the Action Plan, the CJTF committed to put in place a number of measures to end this violation of international child rights.
The month was also marked by the visit in Nigeria of the newly-appointed Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock. After meeting the Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, in Abuja, he headed to Borno State with stops in Maiduguri, Pulka and Gwoza. There, he witnessed first-hand the impact of the conflict, listened to accounts of the suffering experienced by affected families, and contributed to raising the profile of the crisis internationally.
While formal education officially resumed in September, the enrolment drive to get children -- especially girls -- back in school kicked into full gear in October with over 150,000 children enrolled in Adamawa and Borno states alone as of the 31st. The figure rose to close to 240,000 by the end of November. This was achieved thanks to the efforts of various community-level committees and pro-active social mobilisation and advocacy activities.
In north-east Nigeria, the destruction of education is both a key objective and a tragic outcome of the crisis. As non-state armed groups have intentionally been targeting teachers and educational institutions, hundreds of classrooms have been destroyed and parents fear for their children's lives when sending them to school. As of December 2017, insecurity remains a major challenge in the full rehabilitation of the education system, which will be a major priority for the Governmental authorities and humanitarian partners in 2018.
On 25 November, over 40 representatives of the humanitarian community, including Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator Peter Lundberg, and close to 130 traditional and religious leaders from all of Borno State gathered in the state capital, Maiduguri. During the dialogue, the various representatives exchanged on possible ways forward to work together to alleviate the suffering of the millions of women, children and men affected by the crisis in north-east Nigeria.
The same day, the "16 days of activism against gender-based violence (GBV)" started in Nigeria. A variety of activities, workshops, policy dialogues, youth debates, town hall meetings and radio talk shows were organised to speak up and find solutions for issues related to gender and sexual exploitation and abuse. In 2017, over 800,000 individuals received GBV Protection assistance through various interventions, including mental and psycho-social support and clinical management of rape. While the effort started in 2017, all sectors of the response are expected to enhance their gender focus across their operations in 2018 and ensure that protection against GBV is mainstreamed following international guidelines. The humanitarian agencies working in Nigeria are also developing a "Centrality of Protection" strategy to ensure that Protection is mainstreamed and remains at the forefront of all activities and sectors of the response.
In Bama town, Borno State, after months of preparations, over 15,000 women, children and men were relocated from the General Hospital IDP site to a new site built at the former Government Senior Science Secondary School (GSSSS) campus. The site is managed by the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) with the support of IOM. Humanitarians worked around the clock to avail as many basic services as possible in the new camp by the time the relocation started on 17 December. This relocation was organised to solve a major congestion issue at the old site, and to allow for the reconstruction of the Bama General Hospital, as part of an overall rehabilitation plan for the area by Governmental authorities in 2018.
Needs assessments and plans for the 2018 humanitarian response were finalised by the various sectors, with a strong emphasis on durable solutions and linkages between humanitarian and development activities. This will facilitate the transition into longer-term recovery in some areas where the security situation is conducive.