The humanitarian community has strongly condemned the murder of two aid workers abducted in Rann (far north of Borno state) in March and killed between March and most recently in September. Like many around the world the announcement of the killing of the 24-year-old midwife has given me sleepless nights. More so because I met women like these 4 years ago when I served as the Head of the HAT where I facilitated at least 3 assessments to these regions, and can attest to their courage and selflessness in service.
A few months after I took up my assignment as the head of the UN humanitarian advisory team, nine women were shot dead on February 2013 while taking part in a polio vaccine drive and giving oral drops to children in northern Nigeria. A year and a half prior, on 27 August 2011 to be exact, at least 18 people were killed in a suicide bombing at the United Nations Headquarters in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. In the attack that happened on a Friday morning, a car crashed through two security barriers ramming into the reception building before exploding. I was reminded of this tragic event daily as two of the UN staff severely injured in the attack were part of my team.
These events - the bombing of the UN compound and the killing of the vaccine workers, close to the time of my deployment to Nigeria made me deeply aware of the growing security threat to aid workers at the onset of my assignment. As the Nigeria’s northeast terrorism crisis unfolded I was faced with the responsibility of monitoring the growing crisis including fatalities and displacements. By early 2013 it became urgently necessary to conduct an assessment which would be the first inter agency assessment mission into the region; preparation for these missions gave me sleepless nights.
As a first step I recruited a consultant, a female who understood the language and culture of the region to visit one of the three affected states to gauge the level of threat. Her preliminary report provided some background information on which we undertook the first assessment into the region. I also ensured adherence and compliance to all the UN security rules and updates.
The UN has taken steps to put many security measures in place for the security of aid workers while prioritizing aid delivery to affected communities. The Programme Criticality (PC) Framework is a component of the UN Security System which is used to determine levels of acceptable risk for programmes and activities implemented by the UN in high and very high security risk environment. I represented my organization at the Working Group on Programme Criticality for Kenya as the security context became volatile in 2011 and 2012. I was able to apply this informally in Nigeria in managing my teams’ missions to the northeast at the onset of my assignment. To complement the Programme Criticality Framework, the UN Humanitarian motto has been To Stay and Deliver, which stresses the primary goal of humanitarian partners to manage security risk to ensure continued aid to affected populations.
The United Nations has also dedicated August 19 is the World Humanitarian Day in recognition of humanitarian workers who lost their lives for humanitarian causes. Notwithstanding these preventative and protective security measures, the uncertainty and unpredictability of terrorist attacks continues to pose a significant security threat to aid workers serving in such contexts.
Since 2009 at least 500 aid workers have been killed in the line of duty. In 2017, 139 aid workers were killed while doing their jobs and another 174 aid workers were kidnapped or injured in serious attacks. This 2017 figure jumped by 30 per cent from 2016. Over 90 percent of the fatalities are local and national staff. The reason for this is that most times they understand the local language, culture and can blend in.
The recent killing of the 24-year old Nigeria midwife and the almost 500 aid workers killed or injured since 2007 raise questions, many questions. Beyond strongly condemning the killings, what more can we do?
Are there new perceptions of neutrality? Perhaps is this time to rethink traditional notions of neutrality? Do we need to review our approach to the use of armed escort? Are we perhaps operating in new conflict dynamics with old and outdated humanitarian models?
Do we also want to reconsider how we brand aid delivery, product and the presence of humanitarian agencies in conflict prone regions or zones? Are we putting aid workers at risk when we brand humanitarian action visibly in conflict regions?
Six of the most dangerous countries for aid workers are in Africa and none of these countries are facing sudden onset conflict situations. Some of these countries have been dealing with terrorism, insurgency and armed non-state actors for decades or more. Are we using isolated humanitarian action in contexts requiring more integrated approaches because we are numbed and exhausted by the protracted status of the crisis in these regions? How are we balancing security assistance with the provision of humanitarian assistance?
Communicating Humanitarian Needs & Crisis Strategically, Increases Returns in Investment in Humanitarian Response Significantly.
Ethiopia is demonstrating that humanitarian needs or crises in Africa does not have to subsume and/or dominate the narrative. Humanitarian needs can be addressed within a larger national goal of economic growth.
Three years of drought across Ethiopia has not distracted from the economic viability and attractiveness of Ethiopia for foreign investment. Ethiopia is ranked among the top 10 most attractive investment destination in Africa in 2017, according to the latest Africa Investment Index 2018.
An independent research arm of Quantum Global (QG), reported that Morocco ranks first, followed by Egypt and Algeria in the second and third places. Botswana ranks 4th, Cote d'Ivoire 5th, South Africa 6th, Ethiopia 7th, Zambia 8th, Kenya 9th, and Senegal.
Ethiopian Investment Commissioner Fitsum Arega told reporters on Wednesday that despite unrest, the country attracted 2.2 billion USD in the first half of this fiscal year, up by 22 percent from that of same period last year. Accordingly, various companies with over 2 billion USD have also expressed interest to invest in the country over the coming year.
It is important to note that this has not happened by chance. In 2016, Ethiopia faced one of its worst drought in 50 years with over 10 million people affected and with prediction of possibly rolling back years of economic achievement. While recognizing this potential challenge, the country took on the leadership of the response in ways unprecedented in the country and Africa.
Ethiopia’s very strong and decisive leadership in responding to the 2016 drought crisis not only ensured that a humanitarian catastrophe was avoided, but that its economic trajectory stayed on track.
For a start, recognizing the critical role of humanitarian reporting in fostering appropriate response, Ethiopia through the 2016 response was intentional about the messaging of the drought impact and response.
For the country, it was important that the drought response showcased the country’s economic achievement in the last 50 years. Ethiopia was the major funder of its humanitarian response, and the humanitarian response was implemented through national systems established, developed and strengthened over the last 50 years. Ethiopia’s achievement in the response was celebrated and showcased at the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016. At the event, the country noted that in the past, droughts of this magnitude killed many, and caused profound suffering, but the impact of this drought in 2016 has been different.
Humanitarian reporting on the crisis struck a balance between the severity of the crisis as well as the economic achievements through which the response was being mounted. Partners did not minimize the crisis neither did they undermine the strong national systems through which the response was being carried out.
Ethiopia’s strong health system, with over 38,000 Health Extension Workers on Government pay-roll and a ‘Health Development team’ of over 3 million volunteer women from rural Ethiopia, provided the backbone of the 2016 drought response. Humanitarian partners supporting in the response, realized quickly that this was indeed a new Ethiopia and a new way of responding to humanitarian needs in the continent.
`Our preparation and priorities over the past decade has meant that we have been focusing on pro-poor policies, introducing disaster response management into all aspects of governance, strengthening government ministries, introducing satellite imagery and evidence-based analysis, and intensifying support to the agriculture sector.” Says Ethiopia’s spokesperson at the WHS two years ago.
From the recent FDI report, Ethiopia is still on track with its strategy and very clear national vision to achieve middle-income status by 2025 while developing a climate resilient economy.
Flooding is one of the major cause of displacement and food insecurity across Nigeria, and this has become an annual occurance. I was appointed to Nigeria in 2012 to support the government to address this recurring crisis which leaves an average of 500,000 people displaced each year. In 2012, the humanitarian crisis related to the floods affected 33 of the 36 states of the country; it was one of the worst in Nigeria in recent history. Humanitarian partners estimated that 7 million people were affected while over 2 million were internally displaced. Many of the displaced have returned to their homes in communities located on floodplains thereby remaining at risk of annual floods and the resulting humanitarian effects of such floods, such as displacement, disease outbreak and loss of livelihoods.
Flooding across Nigeria since July this year has left at least 100 people dead and hundreds displaced. Kaduna is one of the states affected and has faced recurring displacement from annual flooding for decades. Over the weekend, many homes were destroyed and hundreds displaced after heavy down pour that started on Friday.
Between 2012 t0 2014 I visited many states vulnerable to recurring flood raising awareness on the need for long term solutions to the impact of drought. In September 2013 I went on a mission to visit communities affected by flood, although the rains had stopped, hundreds of the displaced were still taking shelter in schools across the city with their homes completely destroyed. The assessment found that over 10,000 persons have been displaced and 1,297 houses destroyed. The displaced communities that have been requested to relocate told me that they were willing to move but were not sure where to go.
I also took frequent missions to Lagos State including organizing workshops in the city where representatives from other flood prone states could learn from some of the structures the State had put in place to address annual displacement from flooding. As at 2014, while no national policy existed on the relocation of at risk populations, individual state governments were developing state-based policies that address such issues as they arise, Lagos state was one of the states that has successfully set up temporary camps to house people displaced by flood as well as providing them with cash stipend until water recedes and they can return. Earlier in the year, I facilitated a high level missions to four flood prone states: Kogi, Delta, Anambra and Baylesa States to raise awareness on preventative actions.
I had the privilege of representing the Resident Coordinator of the United Nations at the Presidential Committee on Flood Relief and Rehabilitation chaired by the Chairman of Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote. I remain inspired by the commitment demonstrated by Dangote and other members of the committee to address the humanitarian needs of the estimated 2 million Nigerians displaced and the communities affected by the 2012 flooding. In 2014, as the Head of the UN Humanitarian Advisory Team in Nigeria, I approached the committee for urgent funding to communities affected by the north east insurgent crisis. The Committee responded and provided 5 million in cash transfer to mostly women in two of the affected states. This support was provided way before humanitarian partners could mobilize any financial support.
This committee is still running strong today and recently provided N250 million as relief assistance to communities devastated by flood in Benue State. More than 110,000 people in 24 communities were displaced by floods in 2017. The Presidential committee represents to me a best practice of a national-led and driven private sector investment in disaster risk reduction and humanitarian action.
While commending the national led private sector driven humanitarian response in Nigeria, strategies for relocating populations from flood prone areas most also be prioritized, this recurring crisis needs a long term solution.
Flooding remains a recurring crisis in most parts of the country due to an urban planning that can no longer meet the needs of a rapidly growing urban population and the associated construction of roads and housing. Like the majority of the flood affected communities in Nigeria, flooding reoccurs in Kaduna and Lagos state due to blocked drainages with refuge and construction of structures along water channels.
Photo Courtesy of Naijagist
On the third day of the UN GA summit, speakers continued to express concern about the protracted nature of conflicts, the large-scale tragedy of humanitarian crises, and record levels of forced displacement and mass migration. Several spoke on the challenge of averting famine in northeastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen and severe food insecurity.
I cringe each time I hear the word famine associated with Nigeria. Borno State, the epicenter of the northeast insurgent crisis, was the breadbasket of the Lake Chad Region. Nigeria is too resource FULL to be associated with the word famine!
The Narrative shapes the future... Let Us All Say It Together `Nigeria is ResourceFull'
I interviewed for a position two months ago; a position I had coveted for years, but I did not know it was for this position I had coveted before the interview.
The job advertisement described the functions but not the context. Suffice it to say that my resume was striking and earned me the shortlisting,but I was taken by surprise realizing the post at the interview so was not at my best. It was a 15 minutes interview with just two questions. I thought in typical ### interview both questions would be competency based, but first was substantive in a post i did not know I was interviewing for.
I got into myself by the second question so excelled at that, but I think I was off with the first question. I was devastated, I cried for days. I was in Rome for my vacation when the I took this interview.
Early in the morning a few days later, after a sleepless night wrestling with feelings of inadequacy, I got up early at 6 am and went for a walk. I went for the walk because I did not want my son J to wake up and see me this broken.
I had rented an apartment close to the colosseum so stopped at this point and simply stared and marveled at the splendor of a generation past. It was about 6 am so empty without the tourists, I had it practically to myself.
In the soothing grandeur of the colosseum ‘s civilization and greatness past, I reflected on my pain. I can do this job with my eyes closed, but I am raised in a culture where humility is priced: I have never been good at selling myself.
I turn into a lioness for the rights of oppressed people. I roar loudly and fearlessly to the most powerful for people I care about. But I shrink when it comes to talking about my gifts: I can sell change and social justice, but embarrassed to come across like I am selling myself. This has been my peril. In the last two decades, I have been head hunted to all positions I have had based on my performance and reputation,it is more natural to me to show what I can do than say it upfront.
I wondered through the grounds of the colosseum alone. I have this great building to myself for at least 30 mins before tourists start coming in and I feel much lighter; I did not feel much better, but came out with a lighter perspective.
For a moment I wondered about the men and women who built this and who stood in the grounds. Like the colosseum, we leave symbols of our greatness behind, and not always ourselves. The journey continues.