Lake Chad Basin: Concerns for Gender Protection, Climate Awareness, and Food Security

By Oluwapelumi Oginni and Gabriel Isong

While the Lake Chad Basin region is torn apart by terrorism precipitating a devastating humanitarian disaster, several dimensional ramifications have followed: adverse gender rights issues, climate change, and food crises occurring both as underlying drivers and effects.

The Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorism has caused forced displacement, which, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), has affected over 11.2 million people, with women and girls bearing the burden. There lies a necessity for tackling gender equality and women’s rights, as well as climate change adaptations because the region is impacted by climate shocks, which exacerbate food insecurity and livelihood insecurity.

“Reasons for these conflicts include poverty, extreme weather conditions, high costs of living, and the pandemic long-lasting effects.

Generally, female traders have been marginalized in all four countries, reflecting conventional gender norms and discrepancies that disenfranchise women. Women have also lost their husbands due to the violence, resulting in single-income, female-led households. This harms children’s nutrition, literacy, and well-being.

The results of insecurity and loss of livelihoods have also led these women to harmful coping mechanisms like survival sex.

According to ISS research, women are the population most affected by the conflict in Cameroon’s North and Far North regions. Women have experienced similar economic shocks as large or wholesale traders, although they mostly sell vegetables and other retail products in small-scale trade. Some female traders have gone bankrupt, while others have been looted. Several people have been internally displaced due to the conflict, with no means of income. Small-scale female traders have been subjected to the same economic shocks as large or wholesale traders.

Many women in the Chadian districts of Lac and Hadjer-Lamis have been forced to flee their farms, houses, cattle, and trade in search of safety. Before the crisis, they were active traders, often sourcing commodities from Nigeria and Chad’s capital, N’Djamena. They made significant contributions to the economy of local marketplaces, and their actions drove the profitability of river and road transportation.

Women are also kidnapped and forcibly recruited into the insurgency, where they are occasionally employed in suicide bombs. Women have been forced to evacuate their villages for refugee and displaced person camps, where they experience gender-based abuse.

Women in Nigeria’s Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe states are afflicted similarly to those in other countries. Large-scale female traders indicate that their trade volumes have dropped dramatically, and they cannot obtain bank loans. Many of them are widows, having lost their husbands in the battle. They are concerned about being unable to provide for their children because they are the sole breadwinners.

“Women now deal in food and domestic commodities instead of prohibited or declining-profitable things. Non-governmental organizations have provided some entrepreneurial and vocational training, and some are exploring alternative occupations such as dressmaking.”

Furthermore, it is widely recognized that security challenges and conflicts disproportionately affect girls and women; their impact is also evident in food security. There is a strong correlation between the intensity of conflict or violence and the risks of climate change. Terrorist attacks on farms have significantly impacted agricultural production in the region. Local farmers’ access to and control of farmland has been limited, leading to a decline in production, which can exacerbate the vulnerability of families. Extreme weather events, such as floods, droughts, and reduced rainfall, are putting vulnerable families at risk. In 2022, heavy rains and floods devastated the Lake Chad Basin, resulting in the loss of human lives, property, farmlands, and cattle. This event affected 5.5 million people, claimed the lives of approximately 1,000 people, and flooded 1 million hectares of land, 70% of which was agricultural land. The lost production from these floods could have fed up to 5 million people.

In 2021, the Diffa region experienced delayed rainfall, dry spells, and an early rainy season end, resulting in a cereal deficit of almost 870,000 metric tons. This represents a significant decrease in production of over 1.5 million tonnes compared to 2020. Additionally, a fodder shortage has reduced access to livestock feed, compounding the situation. These adverse climatic conditions and security challenges have caused the most substantial decline in gross production per capita in the past two decades, particularly affecting Diffa, where 24% of the population faces food insecurity.

The Far North region of Cameroon has experienced a decline in agricultural and livestock production, mainly in Logone and Chari, due to decreased rainfall. The situation worsened in December 2021 when inter-communal violence erupted, leading to looting in areas where many households had already suffered losses in their productive assets.

Food security and nutritional status are deteriorating in northeastern Nigeria due to recurring floods and prolonged droughts, which have led to a decline in food consumption patterns. The situation is worsening in the Lake Chad Basin (LCB) region, where access to basic food and water is becoming increasingly challenging.

“The March 2022 Cadre Harmonise analysis shows serious consumption deficits in the region. Around 42.1% of households in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states had insufficient food intake, higher than the 37.8% from the same period in 2021″

Highlighting the importance of gender inclusion and protection and the links between insecurity, climate change, and food protection. There is a need for better risk mapping, better innovation in climate resilience, coordinated funding, and so on. The food security crisis in the region has weakened household sustainability and contributed to population migration in search of food. Additionally, food prices have increased due to food scarcity, further harming vulnerable populations. The situation has resulted in over 7.5 million people being categorized as severely food insecure, worsening the already complex humanitarian crisis in the region.

Research for this article was funded by the Open Society–Africa.