Europe ignores Nigeria humanitarian crisis at its peril, warns top UN official

UN assistant secretary general Toby Lanzer says urgent aid to help stabilise communities in the Lake Chad region is also in Europe’s broader interests

The humanitarian crisis in northern Nigeria has implications that Europe can ill afford to ignore, according to a top UN official. Nigeria was the third largest source of migrants crossing the Mediterranean in 2016 (pdf).

Toby Lanzer, the UN assistant secretary general and lead humanitarian coordinator for the Sahel, said the situation facing the Lake Chad region, which straddles the borders of Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad – and where more than 10 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance – was as bad as any he had seen in 20 years.

The long-running Boko Haram insurgency has led to the displacement of more than 2 million people in the region, left farmers unable to harvest crops and prevented aid groups from reaching communities in remote areas.

Lanzer, seeking to rally support ahead of a major donor conference in Oslo that will be co-hosted by Nigeria, Germany and Norway on 24 February, said European countries had done too little to tackle the crisis despite the opportunity to address humanitarian and migration issues in tandem.

“It’s not only that we want Nigeria to be stable for the prosperity of that country and its people,” Lanzer said. “Also, it’s in our broader interests at home.

“This is a double win, if you want. You don’t want the most populous country on the African continent becoming increasingly unstable; at the same time, you want people there prospering and not having to flee from violence or seek opportunity elsewhere.”

Toby Lanzer
UN assistant secretary general Toby Lanzer. Photograph: Loey Felipe/UN

In December the UN appealed to global donors for $1.5bn (£1.2bn) for the crisis in the Lake Chad region, including $1.05bn for Nigeria. The 2016 appeal, which was originally for $531m, had only received 53% funding as of this month.

“There is a convergence of interests here,” Lanzer said. “I think the UK is probably doing all it can, both on the humanitarian and development fronts, but I think making calls to other capitals across Europe is going to be something that is really vital over the next two weeks to generate more interest.

“There are about 515,000 children who are at risk of starvation right now, so step up, Netherlands; step up, Denmark. You have got to show some solidarity now and it is in your interests to do so.”

Asked about reports that the new White House administration was planning drastic cuts to its funding for the UN, Lanzer said that he was counting on the US to continue the good work it had done in north-east Nigeria and the broader Lake Chad basin over the past year.

“It’s on my mind, obviously,” said Lanzer. “It’s on everybody’s mind. I would hope that anybody who has been engaged in emergency response – whether their name is President Obama or President Trump or any other leader of the world – would recognise that emergency response is just that … not providing [this kind of help] exacerbates situations, which is in nobody’s interests.”


Ben Quinn

The GuardianTramp

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