Analysis of the context, crisis and needs
The major crisis in Nigeria’s north-east persists unabated: the continuing conflict will still severely affect millions of people in 2021, subjecting them to displacement, impoverishment and threat of violence. The armed conflict has no clear end in sight. The Nigerian Armed Forces’ strategy (since 2019) of regrouping in ‘super camps’ has not guaranteed security and protection for nearby IDPs and other civilians. Prospects for displaced people’s safe return to their areas of origin are far from certain.
The operating environment remains extremely volatile, particularly in Borno State where all the major supply routes have become dangerous for civilians and specifically for aid workers, humanitarian cargo and assets. Humanitarian hubs and aid organizations’ offices have suffered regular attacks in 2020.
Protection needs are formidable. Women and girls are under threat of violence, abduction and rape, for example when venturing outside the trenches that surround many IDP camps to collect firewood, though also within IDP camps. Gender-based violence is growing, as are forced and child marriage; women and girls still lack adequate protection and access to services. Desperation drives women to negative coping strategies such as exchanging sex for food and other necessities. These all drive greater maternal mortality, morbidity such as fistula, unwanted pregnancies, and girls dropping out of school. Displacement and returns impose high risk on separated and unaccompanied children. Adolescent males and boys risk forcible recruitment by armed groups or suspicion of association with armed groups by authorities.
The COVID-19 pandemic both deepens humanitarian needs and complicates the response. The Nigerian economy has suffered from the fall in global oil prices and from restriction measures to mitigate the pandemic, particularly intermittent border closures and the need to dedicate resources to curtailing the virus’ spread. The consequent impairment of livelihoods cascades down to loss of income and buying power, with acute effects on the already-vulnerable and food-insecure. Operationally, COVID-19 measures to keep humanitarian staff and beneficiaries safe consume time and resources. Conflict and insecurity have cut people off from their main means of livelihoods—agricultural lands. This causes major food insecurity in north-east Nigeria, which COVID-19’s effects on incomes have exacerbated: despite good crop yields, food insecurity is rising.
Nonetheless solutions are sought for people caught in this crisis, many since 2009. State governments are increasingly committed to IDP returns: the Borno State Government in particular has set a target of all IDPs returning by May 2021. If most of the areas identified for return are highly insecure and inaccessible to humanitarian organizations, alternatives could be available and need further exploration—mainly resettlement in safer areas where there is enough land, or local integration alongside the cities and towns where they refuge. For the few areas that are relatively safe for IDPs who choose to return, a concerted package including timely durable-solution plans is now needed to ensure safe, voluntary, and dignified return. Essential services, firm livelihood prospects, basic infrastructure, civil administration to ensure rule of law, and humanitarian aid for the difficult first phases of return will all have to be delivered synchronously. For IDPs from areas not conducive to returns, humanitarians will advocate (and State governments have signalled some openness to developing) the alternative solutions—durable though not necessarily permanent—of local integration or resettlement. A focused initial exercise might point the way forward by crystallizing new joint working methods among government, national and local civil society, and the international community—in particular development, humanitarian and peace-building actors. Still, as solutions will be slow to arrive for most of the 1.9 million IDPs in need, the humanitarian community must continue to improve conditions in camps, including decongestion, and host communities.
Projected situation in 2021 and beyond
The thorough multi-sector needs assessment (MSNA) in mid-2020 plus other data and risk analysis project a 13% rise in people in need in 2021, from 7.9 million in 2020 to 8.9 million people in 2021. The slight reduction of IDPs and returnees in need is more than offset by a rise in needs of host communities, mainly due to COVID-19. Needs are multi-sectoral and vary in severity across areas and among the three affected groups of IDPs, returnees and host communities.
Response priorities in 2021
Strategic, inter-sectoral focuses for 2021 can be grouped as: improve conditions and services in IDP camps; remedy acute food insecurity including in host communities; strengthen self-reliant livelihoods for IDPs in and out of formal camps; and achieve alternative and durable solutions on the limited scale likely to be feasible in 2021.
Because the needs are widespread, areas (and affected groups therein) with worse levels of severity are estimated as people in need. Within those, sectors target the people most in need, with gender sensitivity, up to the limit of a sector’s collective capacity to deliver. Prioritization of the most critical actions therein further sharpens the planned response. Better quantifying the Government’s humanitarian response will focus the HRP on true gaps.
Lastly, the prospect of solutions for some affected people calls for synchronized humanitarian, development and peace-building actions in the nexus spirit, which this HRP will pursue concretely as opportunities arise in 2021.