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The environmental monitoring network in the Lake Chad Basin was inadequate, sparse, poorly funded and badly operated, a representative of the commission overseeing its management told the Security Council today, as delegates explored the causes of conflict and dire human suffering in the region.
Mohammed Bila, a representative of the Lake Chad Basin Commission based in N’Djamena, recounted the experience of Kaukiri, a village near the tri‑point marker between Niger, Nigeria and Chad, where by 2010, farming could not take place because the Komadugu Yobe River had not brought water to the areas around the village. Yet, there was no sign that the three preceding years of similar agricultural loss had been noticed by local authorities or community organizations.
“As of today, no authority can detect if a similar disaster is occurring,” he said. He recommended introducing a participatory system of local water governance. Climate security risk assessments and reporting from local, national and regional levels should also be aggregated and presented to the Council, as an early warning for conflict prevention.
Mr. Bila joined Deputy Secretary‑General Amina Mohamed, and Senior Conflict Advisor at Adelphi, Chitra Nagarajan, in painting a picture of the factors behind people’s suffering in the Lake Chad Basin and driving some to terrorism one year after the adoption of resolution 2349 (2017).
“We are seeing decreased resilience,” said Ms. Nagarajan, speaking from Abuja, describing the problem as one of governance of and access to natural resources. Tensions were growing between farmers, pastoralists, fishermen and ethnic groups, while deforestation had fostered desertification. Men and boys were among the first to flee when conflict erupted.
She said other tensions among refugees, internally displaced persons, returnees and host communities had been exacerbated by a sense that aid had benefited some but not others. Local leaders were increasingly seen as diverting aid to themselves and their families, and people said corruption was worsening. Looking ahead, she said groups other than Boko Haram could emerge and prove more difficult to combat.
Ms. Mohamed, speaking via videoconference from Monrovia, outlined progress made against Boko Haram, stressing that the Multinational Joint Task Force — comprising military units from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria — had liberated hostages and made territorial gains. It was important to now stabilize reclaimed areas, and seize opportunities to promote sustainable development.
The humanitarian situation was dire, she said, with 10.7 million people in need of life‑saving assistance. Some 4.5 million were severely food insecure across the Lake Chad Basin, a figure expected to rise to 5.8 million by June. The United Nations was supporting the African Union and the Lake Chad Basin Commission in developing a resilience strategy which she expected to be launched next month in N’Djamena.
In the ensuing dialogue, delegates around the chamber praised the Task Force for confronting Boko Haram, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and other terrorist groups, with Ethiopia’s delegate stressing that it had not received the international support it deserved. The impact of the withdrawal of Chadian troops from the Task Force should not be taken lightly.
Kuwait’s delegate meanwhile called for stepped up regional and international cooperation to cut off financing for those groups. One idea, said Kazakhstan’s delegate, was to strengthen regional partnership through the joint steering committee of the Lake Chad Basin Commission and the African Union, with a view to garnering support for the Task Force’s operational needs.
One year after the adoption of resolution 2349 (2017), “Boko Haram feels more or less at home in the region”, said the representative of the Russian Federation, a situation that might have been averted had his delegation’s concerns been considered when adopting that text. Eliminating that threat would allow for more focus on preventing natural disasters by other bodies, such as the Economic and Social Council. “We should not upset the existing division of responsibilities,” he said.
Nigeria’s delegate, also speaking on behalf of Cameroon, Chad and Niger, agreed that Boko Haram had negatively affected virtually every facet of people’s lives. Challenges, such as climate and particularly the shrinking of Lake Chad, required dedicated international intervention. “The lake is very dear to our hearts,” he said, providing livelihoods for 45 million people. Its drying had left fishermen jobless, herdsmen traversing long distances in search of greener pastures, and young people joining terrorist groups.
The net effect had been instability. “We must treat the issues in the Lake Chad with the urgency they deserve and show the needed political commitment towards reviving the lake,” he asserted.
Also speaking today were representatives of the United Kingdom, Sweden, Peru, China, France, United States, Côte d’Ivoire, Bolivia, Poland, Equatorial Guinea and the Netherlands.
The meeting began at 11:06 a.m. and ended at 1:27 p.m.
AMINA MOHAMED, Deputy Secretary‑General of the United Nations, speaking via videoconference from Monrovia, outlined progress made against Boko Haram since her last Council briefing in September 2017, stressing that the Multinational Joint Task Force — comprising military units from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria — had liberated hostages and made territorial gains. It was important to now stabilize reclaimed areas, and seize opportunities to promote sustainable development, especially as Boko Haram continued to carry out raids, abductions and suicide bombings.
For its part, the United Nations was supporting the African Union and the Lake Chad Basin Commission in developing a resilience strategy, which she expected to be launched next month in N’Djamena. As human rights violations continued to fuel insecurity in the Lake Chad Basin, strengthened justice mechanisms, among other measures, would be needed to ensure reconciliation and peace. It was also important to integrate human rights and gender dimensions into counter‑terrorism efforts.
“Too many girls and women across the region continue to experience sexual and gender‑based violence,” she said, noting that Boko Haram had abducted more than 4,000 girls, who, along with women, had increasingly been forced to carry out suicide attacks due in part to the lack of women in the security sector who could inspect other women at checkpoints. Boko Haram had used children in 135 suicide attacks in 2017, a fivefold increase over the previous year, she said, advocating the return of children to their region with a focus on rehabilitation.
On the humanitarian front, she said the situation in the Lake Chad Basin was dire, with 10.7 million people needing life‑saving assistance. She called for the 2016 Abuja Action Statement — a commitment to enhance protection and respond to the most urgent needs of refugees, internally displaced persons and other affected populations in the Lake Chad Basin — to be fully implemented by all affected States. While food security had improved in north‑east Nigeria, the situation was still fragile. Some 4.5 million people were severely food insecure across Lake Chad Basin, a figure expected to rise to 5.8 million by June. On 1 March, three aid workers had been killed in Borno state, while three others had gone missing and aid had been suspended.
More broadly, she said $1.6 billion would be needed to help people in the four countries, calling for full funding of the Humanitarian Appeal, as well as for strengthening the Safe Schools Initiative. The complex situation required an integrated approach to address humanitarian and development challenges. While the United Nations was working to strengthen various national institutions, she said national, local and faith‑based organizations had an invaluable role to play in prevention and reintegration.
Restoring Lake Chad Basin was essential, she said, stressing that the Council’s visit last year, and its adoption of resolution 2349 (2017), had “really created a momentum that must be maintained”. The Council must continue to address the challenges in close cooperation with affected countries, and regional and subregional organizations. Security measures had proven their limits, she cautioned, stressing that there could be no peace without sustainable development.
MOHAMMED BILA, Representative of the Lake Chad Basin Commission, said he was a remote sensing expert in N’Djamena, and had worked on the Komadugu Yobe basin in Nigeria since 1990 as a hydrologist at the Federal Ministry of Water Resources in Abuja. Sharing his experience from a community that survived on cultivating the lake floor, he said the years 1983 to 1984 had been the driest in Borno in recent history. The minor tributaries of Lake Chad, the River Yobe, Yedseram and the El Beid were also dry, while Lake Chad’s level had fallen three metres below the critical level for the pumping station at Kirinowa.
Describing the village of Kaukiri, near the border tri‑point marker between Niger, Nigeria and Chad, he said that in July 2010, the traditional chief had reported that, for the past three years, the usual recession moisture farming could not take place because the River Komadugu Yobe had not brought water to the farmlands around the village. Further, there was no evidence that those three years of agriculture failure and loss of livelihood for all island villages around Kaukiri had been noticed by local authorities or community base organizations.
“As of today, no authority can detect if a similar disaster is occurring,” he said. “In general, the environmental monitoring network in the Lake Chad Basin is inadequate, sparse, poorly funded and operated.” In addition, the shrinking of Lake Chad had forced Mallam Fatori and Kaniram, in Nigeria, and Bosso and Mamouri, in Niger, to compete for the River Komadugu Yobe’s seasonal flow. Such competition had led to claims and counterclaims of river diversion by communities on either side of the border, livelihood loss and heightened social tensions among young people, all of which were evident prior to the 2012 outbreak of insurgency.
He said such incidents occurred regularly but had not been noticed at the national level because water governance was not structured to capture or respond to such information. Similarly, at regional and global levels, climate variability had not been noticed. An obvious solution to poor water management was to restructure the water governance mechanism to operate in a participatory manner at the local level, with input from resource user groups, whose capacities should include resource monitoring and reporting.
At the regional level, he said the solution must acknowledge the link between local environment degradation and the recurrent Sahel drought. Future threats linked to climate risk would continue and the Council was uniquely positioned to stop — and prevent — conflict through “climate diplomacy” based on early warning and risk assessment reports by United Nations agencies in the field.
Broadly, he recommended that a participatory system of local governance be introduced in the Lake Chad Basin, and that climate security risk assessment and reporting from conflict‑affected zones in the Sahel and the Basin area be included in regular briefings by United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) and United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA). Finally, climate security risk assessment and reporting from local, national and regional levels should be aggregated and presented to the Council, serving as early warning for conflict prevention.
CHITRA NAGARAJAN, Senior Conflict Adviser, Adelphi, speaking via videoconference from Abuja, identified several dynamics that were at play in the Lake Chad region. Climate‑wise, the problem was not the shrinking of the lake or the increased variability of its level, which had always fluctuated over history. The key issue was, among other things, governance of and access to natural resources. “We are seeing decreased resilience,” she said, emphasizing growing tension between farmers, pastoralists, fishermen and various ethnic groups. Deforestation was meanwhile having an impact on desertification and soil degradation. The gender perspective of conflict was another dynamic, she said. Men and boys were among the first to flee when conflict erupted, leaving women, children and the elderly behind. Women and girls also faced greater levels of forced marriage as well as sexual exploitation and abuse, while people with disabilities suffered disproportionately as well. Many struggled with trauma.
Continuing, she identified tension between refugees, internally displaced persons, returnees and host communities as another dynamic. People in the region had been welcoming, but tensions were exacerbated by a sense that humanitarian assistance was benefiting some, but not others. She went on to emphasize that the region had long suffered by weak governance, which had been heightened by the conflict. Local leaders were increasingly seen as diverting aid to themselves and their families, and people said corruption was getting worse. Frustration and unhappiness with the State was growing. Looking to the future, she said groups other than Boko Haram might emerge that could prove harder to combat, and that it was important that elections in October in Cameroon and February 2019 in Nigeria not be affected. Emphasizing that “the crisis is not over”, she added that funding for humanitarian action remained essential. The Lake Chad region must remain on the Council agenda, with more systematic reports from the Secretariat as well as interventions that responded to the situation and did no harm. Concluding, she urged the Council to take action now so that current dynamics did not become root causes of future conflict.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) said the security situation in the Lake Chad Basin was a grave concern, and that the humanitarian crisis was as dire as it was when Council members visited the region a year ago. It was clear that the international community and the Council must remain fully engaged in the crisis. He welcomed steps taken by Governments in the region to tackle the terrorist threat and acknowledged Nigeria’s determination to fight terrorism. To achieve sustainable peace, however, poverty, climate change and violent extremism must be understood and addressed. Governments in the region must show strong leadership, including in the demobilization and reintegration of former combatants. Noting that today was World Water Day, he said efforts to build livelihoods resistant to climate change must be supported, with the special concerns of women and children taken into account.
KANAT TUMYSH (Kazakhstan) called for increased international support for humanitarian assistance in affected countries in the Lake Chad Basin, which should be reinforced by support for recovery and scaled‑up development efforts. Stressing that Lake Chad’s size had decreased by 95 per cent over the last 60 years as a result of drought and climate change impacts, he said it was urgent for international partners and donors to support water transfers within the Lake Chad Basin area, which would foster regional integration. Commending efforts by the Multinational Joint Task Force in combating Boko Haram, he said it was crucial to strengthen the partnership among regional countries through the joint steering committee of the Lake Chad Basin Commission and the African Union, with a view to mobilizing support for the Task Force’s urgent operational needs. The United Nations and regional organizations should develop a single operational strategy to address the causes of the crisis, in close cooperation with affected countries.
TAREQ M. A. M. ALBANAI (Kuwait) said countries of the Lake Chad Basin region had been targeted by Boko Haram and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh). He called for stepped up regional and international cooperation to cut off financing for those terrorist groups. He also welcomed the Task Force’s efforts to fight those groups and facilitate aid delivery, citing the Council’s January and July 2017 presidential statements emphasizing the importance of fighting transnational threats, implementing the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel, and strengthening good governance and the rule of law. Citing resolution 2349 (2017), he called for the perpetrators of terrorist acts to be held accountable. The Council should organize another visit to the Lake Chad Basin to review the serious humanitarian situation there before it worsened. Resolution 2349 (2017) also outlined the need to remedy the causes of climate change in the region, and he called for reassessing risks and devising new strategies to assist regional Governments.
CARL ORRENIUS SKAU (Sweden) welcomed the return of more than 100 of the girls captured by Boko Haram in the Nigerian town of Dapchi and called for the immediate, unconditional release of those still missing. While humanitarian action in 2017 had averted the immediate risk of famine, the complex situation in the Lake Chad Basin region remained one of the most fragile in the world and required continued international support focused on sustainable and inclusive growth and women’s empowerment. As part of efforts to implement Council resolution 2349 (2017), Sweden supported the Lake Chad Governors’ forum on peacebuilding, prevention, stabilization and regional cooperation, scheduled for May, to address challenges facing the region. He pointed to climate change’s negative impact on the region’s stability and security, which had contributed to polarization and conflict between groups already grappling with scarce resources and threats to their livelihoods. Sweden supported efforts to bring together existing information from relevant United Nations organs and forward‑looking analysis from research institutions to assess risks in that regard. It was crucial to engage community leaders and other relevant stakeholders in a dialogue to address the root causes of crisis. Women’s full participation in reconstruction and stabilization efforts was critical as they were disproportionally affected.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) said his country was following the situation in the Lake Chad Basin — which affected 17 million people — with special concern. The terrorist violence of Boko Haram and ISIL/Da’esh, and the escalation of conflict, must be confronted by addressing root causes, including the impact of climate and environmental change. The United Nations had the capacity to contribute to a more effective response, while the Council must benefit from a better understanding of underlying factors, including through timely analysis, risk assessments and risk management strategies. The focus must stay on sustainable development and realizing human dignity, including poverty eradication, climate change resilience and strengthening government institutions.
ZHAOXU MA (China) said that in some parts of Africa, including the Lake Chad Basin, terrorist forces and transnational organized crime were still rampant, resulting in sluggish economic growth, unemployment, poverty and refugees. The United Nations and the international community must support Africa’s anti‑terrorist efforts with targeted assistance that respected the sovereignty and will of host countries. Assistance must also be extended to Africa to address root causes from a long‑term perspective, while bringing into play the unique role of regional organizations such as the African Union. The international community must truly respect African countries’ ownership of their security challenges, he said, adding that China would remain a sincere friend and reliable partner of the continent.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said a focus on security was essential for the development of the Lake Chad Basin region. Support from the international community was needed more than ever and it must continue. Emphasizing that the fight against terrorism must never be accompanied by human rights violations, he said the rule of law was essential for reconciliation. Root causes must also be addressed. Noting that the surface of Lake Chad was half of what it was in the 1950s, he emphasized the importance of water resources, saying they should not be a source of division, but rather a point of cooperation among States. Concluding, he said environmental deterioration and increasingly scant water resources called for a comprehensive focus on conflict prevention, which was at the heart of the Secretary‑General’s reform strategy.
TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) said the Multinational Joint Task Force had not received the international support it deserved. The impact of the withdrawal of Chadian troops from the Task Force should not be taken lightly, he said, noting the decision of the African Union to continue mobilizing support as needed. The coordination of efforts by the United Nations, African Union and subregional organizations was critical in addressing the challenges of the region. In that connection, Ethiopia supported the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan for north‑east Nigeria, which covered peacebuilding and longer‑term development measures. Meanwhile, the effect of climate change and its impact on the Lake Chad Basin posed serious challenges in addressing root causes of conflict. That climate change is wreaking havoc in many areas of the world is more and more becoming self‑evident, but nowhere is this so empirically more demonstrable than in the Lake Chad Basin. Combined with the continued threat of Boko Haram, peace and economic stabilization in the joint border areas of the region were essential.
AMY NOEL TACHCO (United States) said today’s presentations were an important reminder that more must be done to address the terrorist threat and humanitarian crisis in the Lake Chad Basin. Boko Haram and ISIL/Da’esh in West Africa continued to devastate communities, and she called for the return of all those abducted across the region and accountability for the perpetrators. “We are your partner in this fight,” she said. Commending regional countries for their efforts through the Multinational Joint Task Force, she urged them to stay focused on that task even as they faced other competing priorities. Regional leaders must redouble efforts to secure territories in order for people to return. Nigeria’s disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration and reconciliation strategy was a positive step, she said, pressing regional Governments more broadly to work with civic leaders to create the socioeconomic infrastructure that allowed for investigations of human rights abuses. “Impunity only feeds terrorist recruitment,” she said. Regional security forces must do so in line with international human rights law, as well as bolster grass‑roots support for the international humanitarian response by showcasing responsible governance.
BERNARD TANOH-BOUTCHOUE (Côte d’Ivoire) said alongside the security crisis, there were socioeconomic and environmental factors impacting people in Lake Chad Basin, citing dwindling jobs and resources, especially for young people, and issues of both governance and decentralization of Government administration. The priority should be equitable access to resources and services, as well as ensuring sustainable economic growth, he said, emphasizing that the Secretary‑General’s report S/2017/764 offered details on the actions taken against Boko Haram. He welcomed the operations carried out by the Multinational Joint Task Force in that context, and recommendations made by the joint steering committee on 20 December 2017, notably on the need to accelerate the availability of funds from international partners in order to meet the Task Force’s operational needs. He supported the Secretary‑General’s determination in making progress through the framework of the Integrated Strategy for the Sahel, advocating coordination with UNOWAS and UNOCA. He welcomed the conclusions of the international conference held from 25 to 28 February in Abuja titled, “Saving the Lake Chad to revitalize the Basin’s ecosystem for sustainable livelihood, security and development”.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said there were several factors aggravating the situation in the region, including climate. However, there were more appropriate platforms for discussing them, notably the General Assembly Second Committee (Economic and Financial) and the Economic and Social Council. “We should not upset the existing division of responsibilities,” he said, but rather protect the Council from diluting its mandate and lowering its effectiveness. The Russian Federation had warned that was happening in negotiating resolution 2349 (2017). “Our words were not heeded”, and the text now lacked elements that would have better helped Lake Chad Basin countries fight terrorism. One year after its adoption, “Boko Haram feels more or less at home in the region”. Eliminating that threat would allow for more focus on preventing natural disasters. Also, regional instability had increased after the collapse of Libya, he said, urging countries to refrain from similar destructive ventures. Regional countries should be supported in combating terrorism through efforts to strengthen national capacity and encourage close regional cooperation. African solutions to African problems could only be welcomed. The Russian Federation would continue to provide support in the framework of international organizations and through bilateral channels, without politicizing the issue.
PEDRO LUIS INCHAUSTE JORDÁN (Bolivia) said that despite encouraging progress against Boko Haram, the international community must keep up its support for the Multinational Joint Task Force and for those countries in the Lake Chad region that were fighting terrorism on behalf of the rest of the world. Donor countries were encouraged to make good on their pledges at last year’s Lake Chad humanitarian conference. He said his country acknowledged the need for a joint regional strategy that addressed not only Boko Haram, but also the structural causes of the conflict. Emphasizing that a high percentage of the world’s fresh water resources were shared by two or more States, he said water should be seen as an opportunity for cooperation, with States sharing their concerns and finding policies to better manage water.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said the Council should remain deeply engaged in the situation in the Lake Chad region, where much remained to be done in confronting Boko Haram. With others, the United Nations must address the root causes of violence and stability, including the social and economic hardship of marginalized communities. Only through the empowerment of women, children and other discriminated communities could violent extremisms be confronted, she said. Humanitarian aid was not enough. Long-term development assistance must address the region’s vulnerabilities, including food insecurity and climate change, she said, emphasizing the important role of water in the peace and security agenda.
ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea), noting that very little media coverage had been given to the crisis, said violence by Boko Haram in Nigeria had affected neighbouring countries and their food security. The international community must be vigilant, taking both preventative and proactive steps to explore all variables which would contribute to restoring peace and security. Describing Lake Chad as a part of world heritage and humanity, he said resolution 2349 (2017) called on the Council to adopt an integrated and global approach to the multidimensional challenges of the Lake Chad region. A coordinated regional approach was essential, but progress on security should go hand in hand with development, he said.
KAREL J. G. VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) said the current crisis in the Lake Chad Basin was a result of inaction 15 years ago in addressing its root causes, particularly those related to water and climate, socioeconomic opportunities, and the inclusion and empowerment of women. Concerning water and climate, he cited water availability and the challenges posed by increased climate variability around Lake Chad as two factors that had real effects on livelihoods, farming, fishing and food security. Building resilience required investment in sustainable, integrated water management, while also taking into account the effects of climate change. At the same time, the lack of socioeconomic opportunities made the population vulnerable to recruitment by violent extremists, he said, adding that more needed to be done to address the underlying factors that drove people towards violent extremism. Noting that women and girls in the Lake Chad region were disproportionately affected by the crisis, he called for an integrated response that ensured their full inclusion and participation.
TIJJANI MUHAMMAD BANDE (Nigeria), speaking also on behalf of Cameroon, Chad and Niger, said the Boko Haram insurgency had had a negative impact on virtually every aspect of life in the Lake Chad region. The four Governments were resolved to protect civilians in the battle against that terrorist group and its ilk within a framework that also addressed development needs. Averting the shrinking of Lake Chad would require a dedicated international intervention, he said, emphasizing that the lake — one of the oldest in Africa — was “very dear to our hearts” and a source of livelihood for more than 45 million people.
Instability in the subregion could be traced to the lake drying up, he said, calling for rededicated international action, increased global attention and active engagement with Lake Chad region countries to speed up recovery efforts and address the root causes of terrorism, in line with resolution 2349 (2017) and the UNOWAS presidential statement adopted by the Security Council in January. That would require strong United Nations cooperation with regional organizations such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Lake Chad Basin Commission, with the Organization providing adequate, predictable and sustainable funding for regional initiatives and Council‑authorized peacekeeping operations. In that regard, he called for the expeditious disbursement of the $458 million announced at the 2017 Oslo conference for humanitarian purposes.
He recalled an international conference on saving Lake Chad, held in Abuja on 26‑28 February, saying it adopted a road map for implementation of its recommendations for restoring the fishing, irrigated farming and the lake itself. At the same time, Governments in the region were committed to tackling root causes in a holistic manner and, in that regard, called upon the United Nations and the international community to extend their support and solidarity, with special attention paid to the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons. “We must treat the issues in the Lake Chad [region] with the urgency they deserve and show the needed political commitment towards reviving the lake,” he said, adding that inaction or delay would accelerate a deteriorating standard of living for millions, with dire consequences for the continent as well.