Armed Conflict, Starvation And Sickness: The Forgotten Children Caught Up In Lake Chad's Crisis

Community members in Salia, Baga Sola area, Chad. Bruno Col / World Vision

International children's charity World Vision is urging donors attending an Oslo Humanitarian Conference on Nigeria and the Lake Chad Region this Friday to take swift action to help millions of suffering vulnerable children in the Lake Chad Basin.

Some 2.4 million people have been forcibly displaced due to violence and conflict or are trapped in areas that are hard to reach, the charity says. More than 1.2 million of them are children. 

World Vision said that children trapped by the fighting are particularly vulnerable to being forcibly recruited into armed groups, sexual exploitation and child marriage.

'This is a crisis of forgotten children. Not only have children been forced to endure atrocities of enormous proportions, but many are also suffering the effects of hunger and illnesses,' said Kathryn Taetzsch, the Lake Chad Basin response director for World Vision.

'Some children are traumatised and require psychological support as well as medical assistance. We are especially worried about those children who have been caught up between armed groups and are now held hostage or forced to fight.'

Yangou Abakar, aged  seven. Boko Haram raided her village two years ago. She now survives in Salia with her mother and three sisters.Bruno Col / World Vision

A total of 17 million people across Niger, Chad, Nigeria and Cameroon have been affected by the long-running violence incited by Boko Haram and the military counter-offensive. Of those affected, 10.7 million people need urgent humanitarian assistance, World Vision says.

While there is much focus on the mass kidnappings of women and girls in northern Nigeria, boys have also suffered the brunt of the crisis in the region, as many are abducted and conscripted.

Over the past three years, militant groups have kidnapped more than 10,000 boys and trained them in boot camps, abandoned villages and forest hide-outs. Boys, and at times girls, as young as five years old are being indoctrinated into violence and used as fighters, suicide bombers and spies. Since 2014, 86 children have been used as a suicide bombers, including 38 last year, World Vision says.

One boy affected by the crisis – and now being supported by World Vision – is Mohamed, aged 12.

Mohamed (which is not his real name) was living in Damasak, Nigeria with his family, before being captured by Boko Haram militants.

Each day before school he used to sell fried yam at the local market. 'The day Boko Haram attacked our town for the first time, I was at the market selling yam,' he told World Vision. Disorientated and afraid, he ran away and was kidnapped and taken to a large compound in town.

Mohamed explained that his kidnapper told him: 'We will educate you, teach you the Holy Quran and you will all become fighters.'

The man who kidnapped Mohamed, who was flanked by three soldiers, made him recite verses of the Quran every day and whipped him if he was too slow in carrying out that and other tasks.

After two months he was eventually rescued by his grandfather, who had been spared by the militants along with other elders. He is now being looked after by World Vision at a refugee camp.

'Children like Mohamed will continue to pay the highest price for this crisis unless their humanitarian and protection needs are urgently met and there's a swift and sustainable resolution to the conflict, World Vision said. 'As donors and humanitarian actors meet in Oslo, Norway, World Vision calls on all parties to the conflict to take immediate measures to protect children and civilians from both direct involvement and the indirect effects of armed conflict.'

© 2017 Bruno Col / World Vision

That conflict, coupled with the effects of climate change and dire poverty, has further exacerbated the crisis. The land is parched and Lake Chad itself is receding, according to the charity. Water points are scarce, water quality is poor, harvests have dried up and livestock have perished.

Millions have been left struggling for food and water, with traditional means to generate income like fishing, agriculture and trade severely limited.

'Surviving has become a near miracle', Taetzsch said. 'This generation's future is in peril. The scope of this crisis coupled with the humanitarian community's inadequate response are nearly unprecedented. Decades of humanitarian and development gains are threatening to unravel if the global community continues to turn a blind eye to the scale and severity of the crisis. All actors must protect rights, uphold the rule of law, provide emergency water and food assistance, and prioritise ending violence against children.'

The deteriorating humanitarian crisis across the Lake Chad Basin has caused World Vision to elevate its response to the equivalent of a UN Level 3 emergency. The charity has established new programmes in Western Chad and scaled-up interventions in Eastern Niger to respond to the needs of 300,000 of the most vulnerable children and their families.

World Vision is appealing for $15m to respond to the urgent needs of families and children in affected areas in the Lake Chad Basin.

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