Remarks at a High-Level Side Event on the Humanitarian Crisis in the Lake Chad Basin

Source: U.S. Department of State

Ambassador Samantha Power; U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations; U.S. Mission to the United Nations

Thank you, Under-Secretary-General O’Brien. And let me thank all the governments and organizations represented here today for their attention to a region that desperately deserves it and needs it. Just to humanize the discussion a little bit, I’d just share a few impressions from a trip I took a few months ago to Cameroon, Chad, and Nigeria.

Virtually every family I met with in the refugee and IDP camps had personally experienced the violence of Boko Haram. I met people who had been forced to watch their loved ones executed before their eyes; young girls who were told to choose between saving their families and sacrificing their bodies and their freedom; mothers whose children were literally physically ripped out of their arms, who they hadn’t seen since. And now, we meet today because these horrors are being compounded by a humanitarian catastrophe that is unfolding as we speak.

We can all be blunt about what has happened over the last few years. No aspect of this crisis has received the attention that it deserves. All of us need to dig deeper. This high-level meeting is long overdue. The stakes are incredibly high.

We’ve heard all of the statistics: 9.2 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, 4.4 million of them at emergency levels, and 2.6 million people displaced. In the face of this disaster, what’s so remarkable is that the affected communities – which are already among some of the poorest in the world – have shown awe-inspiring generosity. Farmers have used their next season’s seeds to feed strangers, whom they’ve taken into their homes – all but ensuring that they themselves will go hungry next year. More than 90 percent of Nigeria’s nearly two million internally displaced people have been taken in by family members or neighbors.

One security guard I just want to give a shout out to – his name is Kamai Tumba – at a university I visited in Yola, Nigeria, is housing more than 50 displaced members of his extended family in his humble home. That should inspire and move us all.

Governments in the region are taking significant steps to scale up their efforts. I think it was very important that, at the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees, Cameroon committed to granting refugees ID cards that will make it easier for them to pursue jobs and an education. Chad pledged to improve the access and quality of schooling for refugees. And meanwhile, we know that Nigeria has recently created an Inter-Ministerial Task Force to lead humanitarian coordination with the UN and other partners.

But the citizens and governments of the region can’t do it alone, as they made clear today. We need to dramatically increase the international assistance we’re dedicating to this if we are to avert a famine. The UN has said it needs $542 million to meet the humanitarian needs of the people in the region just between September and December of 2016 – and that is more than three times what countries have given so far this year.

To give a sense of the human stakes, according to the UN, in Nigeria’s Borno State alone, an estimated 134 children will die every day of severe acute malnutrition unless they are treated. One hundred thirty-four children every day. At that rate, over the course of this meeting, 12 boys and girls would die, just in Borno State. And that is just a sliver of the consequences if we come up short.

The United States has provided more than $318 million in humanitarian aid in the region since 2015, and we will continue to do our part and we recognize that we have to do more. Today I am pleased to announce an additional $41 million in humanitarian assistance for the region. And we would call on – [applause] – thank you. And we would call on every government here to find ways to step up the support.

As we increase aid, we also have to make sure that it is being used effectively and efficiently, and that means supporting government-led responses by improving coordination among governments, UN agencies, and humanitarian organizations, and ensuring the full cooperation of the governments in the region. That means people who haven’t necessarily worked together before need to get to know each other in a hurry. And any mutual suspicion that exists has to melt away in the face of this crisis. The humanitarian architecture has to be built up commensurate with the scale of this crisis. It’s got to be able to operate in some of the complex humanitarian conditions the world sees today.

Even if we fill these funding gaps, and even if we improve our ground game though, reaching those in greatest need will require driving Boko Haram from the remaining territory in which it operates, and degrading its ability to stage suicide attacks as it continues to do. This is my second and final point: greater security is indispensable both to delivering life-saving aid, and to ensuring conditions for peoples’ return. For example, the city of Bama, Nigeria, was cut off for two years due to insecurity. When improved security allowed staff from Médecins Sans Frontières to reach the city in June, they found one in five children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. The group also reportedly discovered 1,233 graves dug in just the last year, 480 of which appeared to belong to children. Had MSF and other groups not been able to reach the camp when they did, thousands more would have likely died.

A coordinated regional military effort has succeeded in forcing Boko Haram off 80 percent of the territory it once controlled. But the group’s deepening ties to ISIL leaders should alarm us all. Those ties are yet another reason that the regional military effort needs more international support – as the United States is providing through advisors, intelligence sharing, logistics support, training, and equipment.

For military efforts to be effective, we all know regional militaries must respect human rights. Boko Haram bears principal responsibility for the profound suffering of people in the region, and most regional forces on the front lines of the fight conduct themselves professionally. But when any government security force commit abuses, they compound the existing humanitarian crisis, erode the trust of local communities, and they make it easier for terrorists to recruit more members. We’ve got to be able to both deliver massively increased aid and, of course, address the root causes of instability. If we fail to do that, we are certain to be dealing with humanitarian and security crises in the region for years to come. Thank you.