Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the ministerial round table on Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, in New York today:
Welcome to this high-level event on the humanitarian situation in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region. My warm thanks to our co-chairs from the African Union and the European Union, and to my fellow speakers: [representatives from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria].
For the past eight years, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria have suffered the horrendous consequences of the Boko Haram insurgency. The widespread violence has left 10.7 million people across the Lake Chad region in need of emergency assistance.
Most of these people were already contending with high poverty rates, poor provision of basic services like education and health care, and the devastating impact of climate change. Now 2.3 million people across the region are displaced; over 5 million are struggling to access enough food to survive; and half a million children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Most of those who have fled the violence live with host families across the region, who have opened their homes and hearts with great generosity to share the little they have.
The international community is also mobilizing. Humanitarian agencies and their partners are working with local agencies, non-governmental organizations and civil society on the ground to provide emergency aid to keep millions of people alive. But we need to step up our efforts. I urge everyone here to give all the support you can to help fund the $1.5 billion humanitarian appeal. I thank those who have already contributed. Humanitarian needs will unfortunately remain high into next year and beyond. Sustained support is essential.
Looking forward, this crisis has very clear implications for our work on human rights. The violence in the Lake Chad Basin is marked by widespread human rights violations, including attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, widespread sexual violence and the forcible recruitment of women and children as suicide bombers. Some 83 children have been used as suicide bombers in North-East Nigeria this year alone, including 55 girls, mostly below 15 years old. Protecting civilians, particularly women and girls, must be at the heart of our collective response.
I welcome efforts by the Governments of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria to tackle this crisis, and I welcome the 2016 Abuja Action Statement and the commitments made by their Governments to establish national action plans to enhance protection of civilians. I urge all to finalize and implement these plans urgently, and I reaffirm the United Nations support.
This crisis is also a powerful example of the complex, multidimensional and interlinked challenges that this region faces. It shows why we need an integrated, comprehensive and coherent approach to address the humanitarian-development nexus and its link to peace.
These challenges are driven by under-development, economic and political exclusion, environmental degradation linked to climate change, demographic shifts and structural fragility. Countries in the region are dealing with violent extremists at the same time as they are hit by economic recession and low oil prices.
I myself grew up in Maiduguri in Nigeria — the heart of the Boko Haram insurgency. I know better than anyone that no child is born a terrorist. Children and young people are indoctrinated and radicalized by circumstances, conditions and influences. Governments must act to address the root causes of violence, including the full spectrum of social, political, economic and religious grievances.
The Secretary-General has put prevention at the heart of the UN, across all three pillars of our work. Preventing crises requires investment in strengthening resilience and building the capacity of institutions and communities; investment in people and in social cohesion; reducing inequality and vulnerabilities; and expanding opportunities for all. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is the best preventive tool we have.
The United Nations engagement in the Lake Chad Basin spans political action, humanitarian assistance, development aid, human rights, justice and law enforcement, as well as issues related to preventing and countering terrorism. These efforts include technical support to the Multinational Joint Task Force.
We are paying particular attention to the gender dimension of the crisis. Two months ago, I travelled to Nigeria with the Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka; the United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten; and the African Union Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security, Bineta Diop, to meet with courageous women and girls and discuss how we can do more.
We met many brave women and young people, many of whom had overcome horrific abuse. They told us of their hopes for peace and of their desire to play an active role in conflict resolution, development and peacebuilding processes as we move forward. I urge all with influence to make sure that women and girls are involved in all processes related to peace and development in their countries and region. Communities, societies and Governments all stand to benefit from this involvement.
The theme of this year’s General Assembly is Striving for Peace and a Decent Life for All on a Sustainable Planet. The 2030 Agenda, and continuing development priorities, including poverty eradication, health, education, and food security and nutrition, sets out a wide range of economic, social and environmental objectives. It also promises more peaceful and inclusive societies.
I believe there is no situation more deserving of your focus and attention than the crisis in the Lake Chad Basin. Our decisions here can make a real difference to the lives of millions of people caught up in conflict, poverty and hunger.