Anne-Marie McCarthy, Regional Lake Chad Programme Manager, Plan International Nigeria
My colleagues in Niger laughed today when I said that I have not seen Lake Chad even though it features in my job title, and who knows if I ever will, given insecurity around the lake, so I tried to find some images online to see what I was working with. See below 🙂
Lake Chad is on the eastern side of Niger. Niger is a huge country, with a surface area of 1,267,000 km² (about 15 times the size of the island of Ireland which is 84,400 km²) with a population of 22.4m. According to the UN Humanitarian Response Plan 2.9m people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, of which an estimated 4.2% are living with a disability. An estimated 70% of the population are under 25 years of age.
Lake Chad touches four countries (Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon). The Lake Chad Basin Commission was set up to manage the lake’s resources and is managed in the respective territories by the Ministry of Water Management, even though the Lake Chad Basin is now more (in)famous as the area affected by the Boko Haram crisis.
For more than a decade, Niger has been affected by a number of recurring crises – drought, epidemics, floods and armed conflict, some of which can occur at the same time in certain regions.
Plan International is responding to the urgent needs of the people and is also working to tackle the root causes of these crises. We have a regional Lake Chad coordination team which works to promote regional coordination and to consolidate country-based work at a regional level.
One of the reasons for my travel to Niger was to support the Plan International team on the influencing and advocacy work there. For example, the first advocacy objective is related to education, to work at getting governments at all levels, to ensure the implementation, resourcing and promotion of gender-responsive education policies, including education in emergencies. This will ensure that children, particularly adolescent girls, have access to safe, quality and inclusive education, and working with parents so they value schooling for girls.
This is a tall order for sure, but Plan International’s programmes are supported by advocacy work of this nature.
These are the Lake Chad and Niger teams in action in Niamey:
A recent article in Time magazine highlighted some interesting facts about Niger. Despite being bottom on the UN Human Development Index Niger hosts almost 500,000 refugees; climate change is undoubtedly having an impact there – in 2018, desertification claimed the equivalent of 150,000 football pitches! In addition to that, while five Sahel countries, including Niger, produced 10 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2016, in the same year, the US produced 5 billion tonnes.
While we were in Diffa, we met with the Governor of the Region, who talked about the changes in the seasons there, such as they have not experienced before. Unprecedented rains fell this past wet season and many areas flooded making them inaccessible.
In my last blog, I wrote about not cycling in Abuja but I am pleased to report that I saw some cyclists in Diffa, if not so many in Niamey. I had an extra day before my flight back to Abuja, so I went to the museum to see the dinosaurs, to the zoo to see the hippos, to the artisans’ market to see some of the amazing crafts produced in Niger (leather goods, woven cotton, and silver jewellery), and marvelled at some of the architecture.
Sometimes, in Niamey, you can forget the multiple crises and issues affecting the country such as; gender-based violence, child marriage, forced recruitment of child soldiers by armed groups, youth unemployment and lack of access to basic social services.
With such a large youth population providing education and youth employment opportunities are essential. Plan International in Niger is working with some of the most vulnerable communities across the country, but it is only through working with the whole range of actors from government and civil society that sustainable solutions will be reached.