Top United Nations Officials Warn Security Council of Constrained Humanitarian ‘Footprint’ for Victims of Boko Haram’s Attacks in Nigeria, Region

30 March 2015
7421st Meeting (AM)

Top United Nations Officials Warn Security Council of Constrained Humanitarian ‘Footprint’ for Victims of Boko Haram’s Attacks in Nigeria, Region

Unless well-targeted humanitarian assistance reached those fleeing Boko Haram’s increasingly brutal attacks, more than 3 million people in northern Nigeria would be unable to meet basic food needs in the coming months and millions more would be affected, top United Nations officials said, briefing the Security Council on threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts.

The situation in Nigeria and neighbouring States remained dire and urgent, with insecurity and a lack of donor support constraining the expansion of a humanitarian “footprint”, said Kyung-Wha Kang, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, speaking on behalf of Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator.

The number of people fleeing attacks was growing across borders in the Lake Chad Basin region, she said.  With the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reporting more than 200,000 displaced persons in Cameroon, Chad and Niger, she said the three Governments had requested international aid to respond to immediate needs, including protection, food, water and shelter.  Food was becoming increasingly scarce and costly, with almost one quarter of children in the Diffa region between 6 and 23 months of age were suffering from acute malnutrition and 4.6 million in north-east Nigeria were facing food insecurity.

An overwhelming number of internally displaced persons resided in host communities in “camp-like” conditions, clustered around schools, churches and mosques, she went on.  The International Organization for Migration reported that only 10 per cent of the more than 1 million displaced persons were in Government-run camps in urban areas.  While authorities had worked hard to meet the needs of those fleeing the violence, the humanitarian response in north-east Nigeria was “overall poor and fragmented”.  The Boko Haram crisis was also likely to affect the Sahel region, as Nigeria produced half its cereals.

Welcoming the regional political commitment to tackle the ongoing violence, she underscored the importance of a limited focus by the Multi-National Joint Task Force to create conducive security conditions and avoid civilian casualties.  As the Force was a party to conflict, she asked Council members to ensure that operations remained distinct from civilian-led humanitarian efforts to safeguard the neutrality of those providing aid.

After the Inter-Agency Standing Committee visited Nigeria in early March, a three-month action plan was developed to support scaling up critical assistance and life-saving response efforts in conflict-affected areas, she continued.  On 15 March, the Emergency Relief Coordinator approved $28 million from the United Nations Emergency Response Fund, but more funding was needed, she said, hoping for bolstered support from the international community.

Elaborating via videoconference on recent developments as Boko Haram’s “wrath” spread across borders, Mohammad Ibn Chambas, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa, said it was clear that a military approach alone would not suffice to contain the threat.  Although several key towns had been recaptured, as well as Boko Haram’s headquarters, and the terrorist group held only a few areas, its attacks had intensified.

A recent report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), he noted, showed that Boko Haram had committed numerous human rights abuses, including abductions, looting and slaughtering of communities.  Following an attack in February, reports had shown that the armed group was forcibly recruiting boys and men.  Of particular concern were children, who had been targeted for abduction and forced recruitment, with reports of young people being used as suicide bombers.

In response to those and other concerns, the United Nations was in the process of scaling up its presence and operations in Niger, Cameroon and the Lake Chad Basin region, he said.  A hands-on approach was needed, as were resources for implementation, he said, noting that the United Nations would support regional efforts, including those led by the Lake Chad Basin Commission.

However, proceeding cautiously was essential, he said.  Counter-terrorist operations that were perceived by affected populations as being brutal would violate the norms represented by the United Nations.  A joint task force must abide by the rule of law and international standards, which was an effective strategy to ensure that communities supported the authorities fighting Boko Haram instead of fostering the insurgents.

In light of recent elections in Nigeria, which the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) reported as having been free and transparent, he said, the legitimacy of the next Government would be essential for the country’s long-term stability.  He hoped that Government would remain engaged in the fight against Boko Haram.

As for the role of the international community, he said it could and should play an important part in addressing the root causes of terrorism in a way that put respect for human life and dignity first.

The meeting began at 10:07 a.m. and ended at 10:33 a.m.

For information media. Not an official record.