“Vast human tragedy” reported in Lake Chad region

GENEVA — The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Peter Maurer, completed a two-day mission to Niger on Friday. With life-saving aid not reaching hundreds of thousands of people across the Lake Chad region, Mr Maurer called for more sustained and long-term international efforts to address the massive needs in the four countries affected.

In Niger’s Diffa region, Mr Maurer visited Garin Wanzam, a village whose population of 1,500 multiplied by 20 in the space of just 72 hours in June, as it became a refuge for people desperately fleeing the fighting nearby. It now hosts 30’000 displaced people, who are dependent on humanitarian aid and still fearful of returning home. With only one well providing water for the whole village, Garin Wanzam was unable to cope with such an unexpected influx of people and needs ongoing emergency support.

“I have been deeply moved this week by the people I’ve met. So many lives have been torn apart. The village of Garin Wanzam is just one example of the vast human tragedy playing out across the entire Lake Chad region, where some 2.6 million people have been driven from their homes and more than 6 million are caught up in a daily struggle to put food on the table,” said Mr Maurer.

Call to respect civilians

The ICRC president also called for all parties involved in the regional conflict to protect and respect civilians, detainees and the wounded, as per their obligations under International Humanitarian Law. “The sheer scale of the suffering here is unimaginable. War has rained chaos on millions of lives: separating families, destroying access to food, water, education, shelter, health care. The scourge of sexual violence has left dreadful physical and psychological scars. Many people are stigmatised and met with distrust when they return to their communities, creating yet more division.”

In Niamey, Mr Maurer met with the President of Niger, Mr. Mahamadou Issoufou, Prime Minister Brigi Rafini, as well as with the General Secretary of the Diffa Governorate and other officials. They discussed the humanitarian situation of people affected by the violence and considered ways to improve their economic security and protect them from the brunt of the conflict. President Maurer underlined the ICRC’s willingness to continue supporting the people of Niger through its humanitarian programmes, and its wish to strengthen humanitarian services in places of detention.

“Humanitarian aid cannot address the underlying grievances driving this conflict. A military response alone cannot bring a solution. To turn around the lives of millions of people in the Lake Chad region, we need to see greater commitment and concerted engagement from political leaders and the development community. Governments in the region need enhanced international support,” said Mr Maurer.

The ICRC conducts substantial humanitarian activities throughout the Lake Chad region. Over the first half of this year, the organization delivered food to over 500,000 displaced people. Its overall budget allocated to the region in 2016 amounts to 136 million Swiss francs. – PRN Africa

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