UN: More help needed for Africa's Sahel region

COMPILED FROM WIRE SERVICES
ISTANBUL
Published 13.04.2016 22:58

A senior U.N. official on Tuesday said the ongoing poverty and horror resulting from attacks by the extremist Boko Haram group in Africa's Lake Chad basin are at their worst and called for increased relief funding for its 3 million people and broader international engagement in the region. Toby Lanzer, the world body's regional humanitarian coordinator for the Sahel region, of which the Lake Chad basin is a part, said in a briefing with reporters that more relief money alone will only serve as a stop-gap if it is not coupled with investments in development and infrastructure. He called on governments and international organizations to address poverty and environmental degradation and invest in education and vocational training. The poverty in this area of northern Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger is "of the like I've hardly ever seen before," he said. Lanzer, who is based in Dakar, Senegal, described how his team recently drove through Nigeria's Borno state to the border with Cameroon, seeing along the way "village after village destroyed and deserted, not a goat, cat of any sort and certainly no humans" as a result of attacks by Boko Haram. Upon arrival at the town of Bama, Lanzer said they found its 30,000 residents on the brink of starvation.

Boko Haram's six-year-old insurgency has left at least 20,000 people dead and forced more than 2.8 million people in the Lake Chad basin from their homes, according to the U.N. The Nigeria-based Boko Haram last year pledged allegiance to DAESH. Attacks by Boko Haram increased early last year in Nigeria's neighboring countries, who are now contributing to a multinational force that was formed to destroy the militant group. Lanzer said the city of Maiduguri in the center of Borno state normally has about 1 million residents but its population has swelled to 2.6 million because of the many people in the region displaced by the fighting. The Sahel region is the zone of transition between the Sahara Desert to the north and the Sudanian Savanna and includes Burkina Faso, Chad, Cameroon, the Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal. The Sahel is home to about 150 million people and Lanzer said that number is expected to double in two decades, making the need for more to be done more urgent. The Nigerian government, Lanzer said, has suffered under a financial crisis resulting from a drop in oil prices and is unable to handle "such devastation and such number of people in need." "We have to help the governments of the Sahel stabilize the situation, whether it's Mali, whether it is the Lake Chad basin," he said. According to the U.N.'s humanitarian affairs office, international humanitarian agencies operating in Nigeria plan to provide $248 million in aid to people in Northeast Nigeria in 2016, but it is only 12 per cent funded.

Meanwhile, local people also join the struggles against the group. When the group raided a remote village on Nigeria's northeastern border with Niger last year, frightened and confused residents fled into the bush to escape the marauding attackers. But the locals got lost and in desperation called a radio station based hundreds of kilometers away in the commercial hub of Kano. "The distraught villagers called our studios on a mobile phone from the wilderness and explained their predicament," explained the head of radio station Dandal Kura, Umar Said Tudun-Wada. "The information they provided was used by security operatives to track them," he told AFP. Dandal Kura has been on air since the start of 2015, broadcasting to residents who have been plagued by Boko Haram for nearly seven years.

It is the first outlet dedicated to the conflict and every day transmits three hours of programming on short-wave to the remote region's ethnic Kanuri population. "Our focus is to provide a voice to the over nine million native Kanuri in the Lake Chad area, particularly in Borno state, to lend support to the counter-insurgency efforts because the Kanuri ethnic group is the worst hit by Boko Haram," said Tudun-Wada. Dandal Kura currently has studios in Kano at a building which also houses the privately owned Freedom Radio, where Tudun-Wada used to be general manager. But it is set to relocate its studios to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state and birthplace of Boko Haram, as a relative peace returns to the conflict-hit city. Dandal Kura in Kanuri means 'big arena' and aims to provide a platform along the lines of the traditional village square where people affected by the conflict can exchange views.

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