YAOUNDE—Boko Haram still poses a major security threat in the Far North region, where the United Nations believes more than two million people face disease, hunger, malnutrition and shortages in several basic services.
But as the group’s firepower diminishes and attacks become rare, UN agencies appear to be shifting their focus to post-crises recovery – associating development with humanitarian responses in a strategy that has not been tried anywhere else in the world.
“There is hope, a turnaround,” said the Administrator of the United Nations Development Program Helen Clark on Monday, after visiting families and launching work on water infrastructure in the Far North.
There has been “success in beating Boko Haram around,” Clark said during a news conference here. It was a rarely made assessment of the more than three-year conflict, which has displaced more than 170,000 Cameroonians and brought in over 60,000 Nigerian refugees in due course.
“The number of incidents is down, that is the first thing,” she later elaborated in an interview. “The situation in the north is not what it was in the heart of the crisis, which is not to say the problem is over. It is not over. Boko Haram is still out there. It is still in Nigeria. It is still able to do the ghastly suicide attacks, but there is not as much of it.
“I think minds are very much turning to ‘when we see more clearly the end of this crisis, what would recovery look like’.”
There is hope, a turnaround
Several United Nations agencies such as the United Nations Refugees Agency, the United Nations Children Fund, the World Food Program and international relief organizations are poured over the region’s daunting emergencies.
As insecurity persists and hampers economic operations, the region’s old problems of poverty, weak infrastructure, scarce resources and ethnic rivalries are being pushed to new extremes. The region ranks bottom in almost all development indicators.
“Recovery is an opportunity to put the development of the north front and center,” Clark said. “Boko Haram is a big crisis but these things don’t happen in a vacuum.”
Much of the funding in response to the crisis has already been going into early recovery projects. Last year, of the USD180 million (about CFA105 billion) earmarked for UN interventions in the crisis, USD16 million went into early recovery. This year, development work has already taken up USD40 million of a total of USD100 million.
“Cameroon holds a special position for the UNDP as a pioneer country in collaborative work among humanitarian and development agencies in crisis situations,” the agency said in a statement. “Cameroon, it should be noted, is considered as a best practice for the nexus of humanitarian assistance and early recovery.”
The UN through the leadership of UNDP, the World Bank and the European Union have begun assessing early recovery needs in the region, which are likely to cover the building of infrastructure, tackling poverty, promoting youth employment and helping communities build resilience against climate change.
Listen to Eugene Nforngwa’s interview with Clark: nforngwa-cameroon-QA Helen Clark-August 31