• IRC President and CEO David Miliband visits the SW/NW conflict in Cameroon, the fastest-growing displacement crisis in Africa, as well as the country’s extremist-affected Far North.
  • With climate change driving up violence and hunger, Miliband visits IRC’s response to malnutrition in Chad.
  • The Lake Chad Basin reflects the modern face of humanitarian crisis: violence, climate change and poverty - threatening the Sustainable Development Goals.


David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee said:

“I traveled to Chad and Cameroon to meet IRC staff and witness the modern face of humanitarian crisis: multiple fronts of conflict, growing displacement and poverty all deteriorating thanks to the undeniable impact of climate change. 

Across the Lake Chad region, the lives and livelihoods of 10 million people are threatened by this new reality. 4.5 million are now displaced across the region, which is also warming at 1.5 times the global rate. In Chad, where 87% of the mostly rural population now lives below the poverty line, increasing drought and resource stress is leaving one in four people food insecure and multiplying the threat of violence. In Cameroon, humanitarian needs have never been greater as the country grapples with two concurrent emergencies: a budding conflict in the North-West and South-West, and an uptick in extremist violence in the Far North. 

Against this backdrop, both countries have gone to extraordinary lengths to respond to the myriad of challenges they face - also coping with the responsibility of hosting 800,000 refugees collectively from the likes of Sudan and the Central African Republic. But the situation I witnessed is nonetheless one of ever-increasing need. The trends in violence are getting worse not better; the deaths of two IRC colleagues in Niger and Nigeria last month are testament enough. In Chad, 40,000 refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) have fled Boko Haram in the Lake region since January alone; in the Far North of Cameroon, the country second-most affected by Boko Haram, I met some of the nearly half a million displaced who have been living in limbo for the past three years. 

In Cameroon, conflict in the North-West and South-West is now also the fastest-growing displacement crisis in Africa. 1,800 civilians have already been killed, half a million displaced, 700,000 children unable to attend school. I was shocked by the accounts of internally-displaced Cameroonians I met in Limbe, in the country’s South-West, receiving cash vouchers from the IRC. I heard from a man who, held at gunpoint, witnessed his daughter being humiliated in front of him by armed combatants; an IRC assessment confirms that episodes of violence like this are the case for eight in ten women and girls caught in the conflict. Without a steep change in internal political dynamics, full-blown civil war is sadly on the horizon. The IRC's 150 staff on the ground are preparing for the long haul. 

The climate of growing insecurity in the region is paired with climate change in driving up extreme levels of hunger and malnutrition. In the Guera region - where malnutrition levels amongst children under five are now far beyond World Health Organization emergency thresholds - I was able to visit the IRC’s vital work in fighting this scourge. 80% of the 50 million children with acute malnutrition globally lack access to treatment, challenged by climate stress and growing fronts of conflict. The need for innovative solutions is obvious. The IRC, along with our partners, has pioneered a new solution that treats moderate and severe acute malnutrition together in one treatment program - with the aim of saving millions of lives in the future. 

This modern face of humanitarian crisis is one of ever-increasing complexity. But it is not insoluble.

The international community needs to provide a concerted boost in humanitarian assistance. Despite increasing desperation in both Chad and Cameroon, neither UN appeal is more than a quarter funded, and Cameroon’s remains the least funded in Africa. The Lake Chad region remains one of the gravest humanitarian crises in the world; addressing these challenges will also require an integrated, cross-border strategy to meet basic needs while also promoting stabilization, governance and peacebuilding.

The crises facing Cameroon and Chad are multifaceted and long-term, but in each case, the funds destined to support a decade on average of displacement are slim. Refugees and IDPs need to be able to rebuild their lives and support themselves alongside their host communities. The nature of these crises requires donors, more importantly, to dismantle the increasingly obsolete distinction between humanitarian and development financing, provide multi-year funding and invest in interventions that support self-reliance of displaced and host communities in the medium to longer term.

Moreover, the progress of Cameroon, Chad and other fragile states towards meeting key Sustainable Development Goals is stagnating because people “caught in crisis” are excluded from key SDG indicators, national action plans and resources. Political leaders cannot miss the opportunity at this September’s High-Level SDG summit to bring refugees and displaced people into the SDG process- without course correction, they will simply not be met. 

Finally, no progress will be possible without recognizing and addressing the specific needs of women and girls. In Cameroon and Chad, along with other fragile contexts, they fall furthest behind on all SDG indicators: because of who they are and because of where they are born. An IRC analysis has revealed that gender-based violence services receive 0.12% of all humanitarian funding on average. In order to address this challenge and realize the vision laid out in the SDGs of gender equality, inclusive growth and decent work for all, donors must commit to a significant increase in funding and holistic strategies aimed at self-sufficiency and economic independence.

The climate degradation, hunger and violence I witnessed in Chad and Cameroon will only metastasize - here as in other fragile parts of the world. It will require an equally modern take on humanitarian response, a refreshed and redoubled commitment - by local, national and international actors - to leaving no one behind.”

Photos from the trip are available here

IRC launched an emergency response in Cameroon’s Far North in April 2016 and subsequently in the South-West of the country in mid-2018. IRC is prioritizing responding to the basic needs and safety requirements of those affected by crises, through food security, economic empowerment, water & sanitation and protection activities, including specific services for women and girls.  In 2018, the IRC reached nearly 180,000 clients through its programming activities.

The IRC began working in Chad in 2004 in response to the humanitarian crisis caused by the influx of Sudanese refugees from Darfur. Today, the IRC works across the Lake Chad region and the country to provide economic, health, nutrition and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) assistance to both refugee and host communities. The IRC in Chad supports nearly 400,000 beneficiaries.