Let me start by thanking the Permanent Mission of the Netherlands, and Ambassador van Oosterom, for convening this briefing and for their dynamic Presidency of the Security Council this month.
I welcome this opportunity to brief the Council on the situation in the Lake Chad Basin.
Since the last such briefing in September 2017, considerable progress has been accomplished in the fight against Boko Haram.
The Multinational Joint Task Force’s operations have contributed to the liberation of hostages and led to territorial gains. The Secretary-General commends the Governments of the region for their sustained efforts and increased coordination. Now it is crucial to stabilize the areas that have been reclaimed, and seize the opportunity to promote development.
Unfortunately, Boko Haram continues to carry out raids, abductions and suicide bombings, as demonstrated last month by the horrific abduction of more than 100 schoolgirls in northeast Nigeria who were recently released.
The United Nations is supporting the African Union and the Lake Chad Basin Commission in developing a Stabilization, Recovery and Resilience Strategy for the region, in line with Security Council resolution 2349. The Strategy will be launched next month in N’Djamena.
In parallel, the Special Representatives of the Secretary-General for Central Africa and for West Africa and the Sahel continue their efforts, in close partnership with the Economic Community for Central African States, the Economic Community for West African States and the Lake Chad Basin Commission, to address the root causes of the crisis.
Violations of human rights continue to fuel insecurity in the Lake Chad Basin.
Investments in strengthening community justice mechanisms will be essential for promoting reconciliation, ensuring accountability and sustaining peace.
It is also critical for counter-terrorism activities and initiatives aimed at preventing violent extremism to integrate human rights and gender dimensions.
We welcome the recruitment of three AU/Lake Chad Basin Commission Human Rights Officers, as part of the civilian component of the Multi-National Force.
The appointment of a Gender Advisor for the Force is needed urgently to enhance the protection of women and girls and ensure their participation in peace and development processes.
Too many women and girls across the region continue to experience sexual and gender-based violence and other violations of their rights.
Boko Haram has abducted more than 4,000 women and girls. Those who are able to return face stigmatization by their communities.
Over the past several years, the group’s use of women and girls to carry out suicide attacks has increased dramatically. One reason may be the lack of women in the security sector who can check other women at checkpoints. Clearly, women’s participation and efforts to promote gender equality are critical elements of our response.
Boko Haram used children in 135 suicide attacks in 2017, a five-fold increase from 2016. The international community must do more to respond to the plight of children affected by the upheaval in the region, including through support for the return of children to their communities and a more concerted focus on reintegration and rehabilitation.
The humanitarian situation in the Lake Chad Basin remains complex and dire, with 10.7 million people in need of life-saving assistance and 2.3 million people -- including 1.5 million children -- forcibly displaced from their homes.
We thank the Governments of Cameroon and Nigeria for their continued cooperation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in the framework of the Tripartite agreement; and we encourage all affected States to fully implement the 2016 Abuja Action Statement.
Humanitarian assistance has scaled up considerably, and reached more than six million people in 2017. Food security has improved in north-east Nigeria, where a famine was averted last year, but the progress is fragile. As of today, 4.5 million people are severely food insecure across the Lake Chad Basin; that number is expected to rise to 5.8 million by June.
The scale-up of assistance has taken place in an extremely volatile environment. On 1 March this year, three aid workers were killed in Rann town in Borno state, Nigeria, following an attack by suspected Boko Haram insurgents. Three others are missing, and humanitarian aid has been temporarily suspended.
An estimated $1.6 billion will be required to assist 7.8 million people in the four countries. I call on Member States to ensure that the humanitarian appeal is well-funded and that pledges are disbursed promptly.
I would also like to highlight the importance of strengthening the safe schools initiative, as well as communications infrastructure so that people can call for assistance when needed.
The crisis has resulted in massive destruction of basic infrastructure, health and educational facilities, commercial buildings, private houses and agricultural assets.
Along with the impacts of violent extremism, under-development, demographic shifts and climate change, we can see another powerful example of a complex, multi-dimensional situation that requires an integrated approach to address the humanitarian and development challenges and the links to peace.
The United Nations continues to support governments in creating livelihoods, strengthening institutions, building community resilience and taking other steps to address the root causes of the crisis. National and local non-governmental organizations and faith-based organizations have an invaluable role to play in efforts to prevent extremism.
Restoring the Lake Chad ecosystem is essential. This would improve livelihoods for millions of people, reduce local tensions and foster regional integration and development. Last month’s International Conference on Lake Chad in Abuja, and the adoption of the Abuja Declaration, reaffirmed the region’s commitment to increase cooperation to address the socio-economic impact of climate change and instability in the Sahel, West Africa and Lake Chad region.
The Security Council’s visit to the region one year ago, and the adoption of resolution 2349, created momentum that must be maintained. The visit by the AU Peace and Security Council in July 2017 further highlighted the challenges faced by the Joint Task Force. Sustained international financial and technical support for the Force remains crucial to protect the fragile progress in the fight against Boko Haram. The joint ECCAS and ECOWAS summit on Boko Haram, to be held in the first half of 2018, will be another important undertaking.
We must continue to address these complex challenges in close cooperation with the affected countries and all relevant sub-regional organizations, in line with Security Council resolution 2349.
We should also recognize that security measures and military operations have proven their limits. There will be no sustaining peace without sustainable development; and development gains will always be at risk without lasting peace.
Let us work together to end a crisis that has caused immense suffering and continues to have serious consequences well beyond its borders.