• Cameroon’s North West and South West regions are experiencing high levels of insecurity and armed violence, in some cases forcing whole communities to flee.
  • A quarter of a million people have been displaced from their homes in the South West region alone, of which around two thirds are women.
  • After being forced to flee, many people are sheltering in the bush and relying on local communities for support. They reported urgently needing food, housing and healthcare.
  • A recent IRC assessment found that people are using extremely negative coping mechanisms including women who are using plant leaves in lieu of sanitary towels.

Since 2016, Cameroon’s predominantly English-speaking North West and South West regions have experienced increasing levels of instability and violence, leading to a socio-economic crisis. Since October 2017 this crisis has gradually turned into insecurity and armed violence. Escalated tensions and multiple conflict outbreaks between the area’s Separatist Militias (SM) and the country’s defence and Security Forces (SF) have affected civilians; forcing many to flee their homes in the two regions.

The International Rescue Committee, in collaboration with two local organizations, Authentique Memorial Empowerment Foundation (AMEF) and Reach Out, recently conducted an assessment in the South West region to understand the needs of the displaced and host communities.

Hannah Gibbin, Cameroon country director for the International Rescue Committee said:

“The escalating crisis in the North West and South West regions of Cameroon has long gone overlooked. A quarter of a million people have been displaced from their homes in the South West alone, of which around two thirds are women. Access challenges across both regions mean we do not know the full extent of the needs.

After being forced to flee, people are relying on local communities for support and reported urgently needing food, housing and healthcare. People have had to find shelter and safety in the bush where they have little access to food, clean water, or any other basic services. Others are being sheltered by villagers, where already limited facilities are being overstretched – compounding the crisis for both the displaced and the local villagers. Many people are unable to afford to buy food, leading to them undertaking desperate measures including only eating once a day.

Women are being forced to use plant leaves in lieu of sanitary towels. The IRC found that 13 of the 17 focus groups that asked women about menstrual hygiene materials reported that they do not have access. This was either because they are unable to pay for them, find them or are too afraid to move to do so.

On top of this six of the nine communities assessed do not have adequate latrines meaning people have to go to the toilet in the open, potentially exposing women and girls to exploitation and disease. Where they are available, toilets are unlit at night, have no door or locks and are not segregated by gender, once again putting women at risk.

Community leaders also told the IRC that they are concerned about health services available for pregnant women, including care during deliveries and antenatal care. Only two out of the eight health facilities surveyed have the ability to conduct caesarean sections. A number of others are missing midwives and gynaecologists.”

In addition to the risks faced by women the wider displaced community is at risk from malaria and typhoid. The assessment found that health centres are serving up to 66,000 people, and that some of the health facilities lack access to both the drugs and equipment needed to adequately support the community. In addition, many health facilities lack the trained staff and equipment to handle a cholera outbreak should one occur.

More than half of the locations assessed have broken water points. Where the water points are functioning, there is a concern of potential contamination, and issues of overcrowding and reliability. In some communities, issues around access to water had been exacerbated by the arrival of newly displaced people as the infrastructure can not handle the number of people.

The IRC is working in the South-West region to support people displaced who have fled to areas outside of urban centres, who are most in need. Through local partners, the IRC has distributed 800 specialised kits for women, which include sanitary towels as well as 400 household kits that contain basic items needed for cooking, sleeping and staying clean. Providing safe access is secured, the IRC will scale-up its work to support displaced communities in the area in the coming weeks.

Since 2016, the IRC has been working in the Far North of Cameroon, supporting those affected by the Boko Haram crisis, to meet their basic needs and overcome the trauma they have experienced including through specialised services for women and girls as well as water and sanitation facilities.

The full assessment can be downloaded here.

To learn more about the IRC’s work in Cameroon, click here.