Judicial

Climate-fueled Violence and Displacement in the Lake Chad Basin: Focus on Chad and Cameroon

Summary

The dangerous link between climate change and conflict is clear in countries across the Lake Chad Basin, including Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria. For more than a decade, attacks by Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) have destabilized the region. The Lake Chad Basin crisis is often viewed through the lens of regional security. However, insufficient attention is paid to how climate change has fueled insecurity and the forced displacement of civilian populations. Together, these factors have displaced 3 million people and left 11 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

Over the last decades, competition for land, water, and food has increased – leading to an uptick in intercommunal fighting and displacement. The unfolding situation in Cameroon’s Logone Birni commune in the Extreme North Region is a prime example of climate change-fueled violence and displacement. In mid-2021, climate-driven scarcity triggered tensions between fishing, farming, and herding communities. The result was an eruption of violence. The ensuing hostilities have caused an estimated 60,000 Cameroonians to seek refuge in neighboring Chad.

UN agencies and aid groups responded quickly. However, the living conditions in the two camps that house many Cameroonian refugees in Chad deteriorated during the last rainy season. Of equal concern are the many Cameroonians still waiting to be transferred from transition centers to the two camps. For the Cameroonian refugees with whom the Refugees International spoke in Chad, one thing is clear: they do not want to return before their government addresses the competition over scarce resources that is at the root of the violence.

Chadian and Cameroonian authorities have failed to effectively resolve these types of clashes. Even worse, they are actively contributing to the region’s violence. According to aid workers and displaced people Refugees International interviewed, high-ranking Cameroonian and Chadian officials have been purchasing large herds of cattle and hiring armed herdsmen who use violence to control water points and grazing pastures.

Much more needs to be done by Lake Chad Basin countries to tackle the link between climate change, violence, and displacement. An important first step would be to make this nexus a top priority for the Lake Chad Basin Commission’s Regional Stabilization Strategy. In addition, regional governments should invest in local mediation efforts to address community conflicts exacerbated by climate change.

For their part, donors and aid agencies should fund humanitarian and development efforts, and work with governments to improve conditions in camps and transit centers for those displaced by the mix of climate change and conflict. Donors also need to fund aid groups to collect data across the Lake Chad Basin countries to better understand the causes and frequency of displacement.

The Third High-Level Conference on Lake Chad Basin Region will be held in Niger on January 23 and 24, 2023. This conference marks an important opportunity for the Lake Chad Basin countries, donors, and aid agencies to meaningfully engage on the key challenges that plague the region. Together, regional governments and the international community must commit resources to address climate change, violence, and humanitarian need and create sustainable solutions for affected populations.

Recommendations

The Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) must:

Address the nexus of climate change, violence, and displacement in its Regional Stabilizations Strategy (RSS). The current RSS fails to tackle the link between climate change and increasing community violence across the region. Nor does it adequately address the displacement and humanitarian need generated by these two trends. Given that the RSS is slated to be updated in 2024, the LCBC should either add the issue as a tenth strategic pillar or amend the current pillars to include ways to better mitigate and respond to this issue.

The government of Cameroon must:

Take a leading role in resolving resource competition and associated violence between farming, herding, and fishing communities in the Logone Birni area. The Governor of the Extreme North region of Cameroon, Midjiyawa Bakary, must take the lead in mediating between these communities and ensure that significant progress has been made before planning begins for the return of refugees and internally displaced Cameroonians to their communities of origin.

The governments of Cameroon and Chad must:

Ensure that government staff are held to account for their role in limiting access to scarce natural resources and fueling instability. According to numerous accounts, high-ranking Chadian and Cameroonian authorities have been buying large herds of cattle and heavily arming men who, in turn, violently control community water points and grazing fields. Chadian and Cameroonian civilians in affected communities report that these armed herdsmen act with impunity because they were hired by government officials.

UN agencies and humanitarian organizations in Chad must:

Conduct thorough intention of return surveys of Cameroonian refugees currently in Chad. Plans to return people to their areas of origin must not take shape before aid agencies have conducted thorough return intention surveys, through which data on the intentions of displaced people and the factors influencing their intentions are collected in order to inform the aid response and assess the possibility of returns.

Ensure that Cameroonian refugees are moved from transition centers into the Guilmey and Kalambari camps and take steps to improve living conditions in both refugee camps. Although it is crucial to offer more long-term accommodation to those living in transition centers, the conditions of the camps are not yet up to standard. Aid groups must work to repair and rebuild shelters and latrines.

Donors must:

Fund aid agencies and relief groups to collect more detailed information on the causes and frequency of displacement. Significant funding shortages across the Lake Chad Basin countries have left significant gaps in humanitarian data on why and how often people are displaced. Donor support is needed for the humanitarian community to collect more detailed data and make more information available to relief groups during their planning processes.

Pledge more funding at the Third High-Level Conference on Lake Chad Basin Region in Niamey, Niger in late January 2023. The conference will bring together government representatives from the Lake Chad Basin countries, humanitarian, development, stabilization, and peace actors, as well as international donors to mobilize resources and set shared goals and strategic priorities for the coming year. Regional and international donors alike must commit to long-term engagement and funding to respond to the region’s humanitarian and development needs. Adequate funding would allow groups to provide for refugees and IDPs, as well as people affected by climate change who may not yet be displaced.

Source: Refugees International