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Lake Chad Basin

Expected Council Action

The Netherlands, as Council president in March, is organising a briefing on the Lake Chad Basin, with a specific focus on the root causes of the Boko Haram crisis. Speakers are expected to include representatives from the Secretariat, possibly the Lake Chad Basin Commission, and a civil society organisation. 

Key Recent Developments

The Boko Haram insurgency continues into its ninth year, affecting north-eastern Nigeria, Cameroon’s Far North region, the Diffa region of Niger, and the Lac region of Chad. When the Special Representative and head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mohamed Ibn Chambas, briefed the Council in January this year, he noted that Boko Haram suicide attacks using children numbered 135 cases in 2017, a five-fold increase compared to 2016. The terrorist group, which has declared loyalty to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), has increasingly relied on such asymmetric attacks while regional militaries, including the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), have taken back most of the territory held by the group over the past three years.

According to OCHA, more than 2.3 million people were displaced by the violence across the Lake Chad Basin as of 22 January. Borno State, Nigeria, remains the epicentre of the violence and the humanitarian crisis, accounting for over 1.3 million of the 1.6 million displaced persons in north-eastern Nigeria. Cameroon’s Far North region is the second most-affected area, with an estimated 236,000 people internally displaced and hosting 89,000 Nigerian refugees.

On 8 February, the UN launched its 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan for north-east Nigeria, seeking $1.05 billion in order to reach 6.1 million people with assistance. During its launch, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria Edward Kallon said the humanitarian response had been significantly scaled up over the previous year and described the “protracted nature of the crisis”. By the end of 2017, 3,000 humanitarian workers were present—more than three times as many as in 2016—five humanitarian hubs were established, including in hard-to-reach areas such as Bama and Gwoza, and food insecurity in north-east Nigeria had fallen from 5.1 million to 3.9 million. The 2018 plan outlines a three-pronged approach meant to address; (1) peacebuilding, political and security challenges; (2) further scaling-up and consolidating the humanitarian response; and (3) tackling the root causes of the crisis, including underdevelopment and governance concerns, poverty and climate vulnerabilities. Three months earlier, from 2 to 4 November 2017, the AU and the Lake Chad Basin Commission, an intergovernmental organisation that oversees water and other natural resource usage in the basin, organised a regional stabilisation conference in N’Djamena. The meeting was held as a possible first step towards developing a regional strategy to address the root causes of the Boko Haram crisis.

On 25 February, the Nigerian government confirmed that 110 school girls remained missing following a suspected Boko Haram attack on a boarding school in Dapchi, Yobe State six days earlier.

The Security Council last held a dedicated session on the Lake Chad Basin on 13 September 2017. It considered the Secretary-General’s first report to the Council specifically on the crisis, which the Council had requested in resolution 2349, adopted on 31 March 2017. In a 30 January presidential statement on the West Africa and Sahel region, the Council reiterated that the Secretary-General should include an assessment of the implementation of resolution 2349 in his regular UNOWAS reporting, with specific attention in his next report on the region in July.

The next day, on 31 January, the Secretariat provided a “situational awareness” briefing—these are informal briefings for Council members to be informed by the Secretariat on situations of concern—on the Lake Chad Basin. Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour briefed on behalf of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Boko Haram. Meanwhile, the Council’s Informal Expert Group on Women, Peace and Security held a 30 January session on the Lake Chad Basin. Briefers included Kallon and UNOWAS Deputy Special Representative Ruby Sandhu-Rojon. Discussion covered sexual exploitation in internally displaced persons camps and efforts to ensure a gender perspective in the counter-terrorism strategy for a crisis in which women and girls have been subjected to forced marriages and used as suicide bombers.

Issues and Options

The situation in the Lake Chad Basin is characterised as a protection and displacement crisis, with lower levels of hostilities but an increase in asymmetric attacks. The upcoming Council meeting is meant to focus on the root causes of the crisis, which resolution 2349 was notable for highlighting. These root causes have been identified as poverty, lack of education, the need for job creation and economic development, poor governance, and the impact of climate change and the shrinking of Lake Chad. During the Council visiting mission to the region prior to adopting resolution 2349, government and UN officials that the Council met with said that these factors have fostered radicalisation and, unless addressed, are likely to cause continued instability.

Having recently adopted a presidential statement on West Africa and the Sahel that requested more detailed reporting on the Lake Chad Basin, it appears unlikely that the Council will adopt a new product at the upcoming session as it awaits the next UNOWAS report. Council members may issue a press statement reiterating the importance of the response of countries in the region and of the UN in addressing the underlying challenges facing the Lake Chad Basin, expressing support for the 2018 humanitarian response plan, and calling on donors to contribute to the plan. 

Council Dynamics

Several members have sought to maintain Council attention to the Lake Chad Basin following the Council’s March 2017 visiting mission and adoption of resolution 2349 later that month. Following the Secretary-General’s September report on the Lake Chad Basin, he has provided further updates on the situation, as requested in resolution 2349, through UNOWAS and the UN Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), which the UN had already been doing as part of these offices’ bi-annual reports on regional developments. Some members have found this arrangement insufficient, and during consultations in January with Chambas on UNOWAS they expressed their concerns about the reporting. Thus, the presidential statement on UNOWAS included a request for more detailed reporting on the Lake Chad Basin in the next UNOWAS report due in July. It seems that this critique may have prompted the Secretariat’s situational awareness briefing at the end of January.

One challenge for the Secretary-General in this reporting is that there is no mandated UN presence across the Lake Chad Basin countries to report more closely from the ground than UNOWAS and UNOCA, which monitor developments from Dakar and Libreville, respectively. This has so far also resulted in somewhat fragmented reporting on the situation, as Boko Haram’s presence exists across both regions covered by the two offices. A related issue seems to be identifying what greater role the Security Council can play at this point besides generating international attention to the crisis, which for much of its history has been overlooked by the Council and the broader international community. Council members have continued to call for the region to develop a strategy that tackles the drivers that contributed to the emergence of Boko Haram and longer-term development needs.

The UK has served as the penholder on the Lake Chad Basin.


Security Council Resolution
31 March 2017 S/RES/2349 This was on the Lake Chad Basin.
Security Council Presidential Statements
30 January 2018 S/PRST/2018/3 This was a presidential statement on the West Africa and Sahel region, which reiterated the Council's call for an assessment of the implementation of resolution 2349 to be integrated into UNOWAS reporting.
9 August 2017 S/PRST/2017/14 This was on the threat of famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and north-east Nigeria.
Security Council Meeting Records
11 January 2018 S/PV.8156 This was a briefing by Special Representative and head of UNOWAS Mohamed Ibn Chambas on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the region.
13 September 2017 S/PV.8047 This was a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman on the latest Secretary-General’s report on the situation in the Lake Chad Basin region.
Secretary-General's Reports
26 December 2017 S/2017/1104 This was on the West Africa and Sahel region, and the activities of UNOWAS.
7 September 2017 S/2017/764 This was the report of the Secretary-General on the situation in the Lake Chad Basin region.