As reported in our last week’s editorial, the United Nations is seeking to deploy its staff in Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions. A report by the global body released on January 31, 2019, has slammed the government and armed groups in the country’s two English-speaking regions for the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the two regions. Produced in collaboration with humanitarian partners, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (https://www.unocha.org/) report states that the global body is seeking US$ 15.2 million to start humanitarian operations in the Northwest and Southwest regions.
“As of 7 January, donors had provided 35 per cent of the US$15.2 million required as per the emergency response plan, according to the Financial Tracking Service (FTS). This amount constitutes the $5.1 million CERF allocation under the rapid response window. Additional contributions were received by other donors but not yet reported on FTS,” the report underscores.
The reports points out that the socio-political issues in and concerning the two English-speaking regions of the country have been a matter of contention throughout the post-colonial period. Political protests against perceived marginalization intensified in 2016 and in late 2017 violence erupted in North-West and South-West regions prompting violent clampdowns by security forces. With the increased deployment of defense forces and proliferation of non-state armed groups, the crisis has increasingly become characterized as one of armed conflict. Increased insecurity, violence and consequent widespread injury and civilian loss of life have forced thousands of families to flee their homes. Displacement continues to have serious consequences on the livelihoods and living conditions of the affected populations, the report says.
It stresses that “vulnerability has been further compounded by lack of access to farmland, by deterioration in medical and water facilities and limited access to education for children due to a violently enforced ban on schooling called for by armed groups.”
The report also points out that “little political progress has been made to resolve the conflict. The ‘Anglophone General Conference’ had been set to discuss the crisis on 21 November 2018 however it was postponed with no new date yet to be announced. Efforts continue at regional and national level and with the diaspora. The stay-home ‘Ghost Town’ protest continues to be observed every Monday across the two regions. There were heightened tensions on the 10th of January as the second day of the trial of the ex-leadership of the opposition movement was held in Yaounde. Numerous incidences of violence took place across the region. In some areas, particularly the Buea-Kumba axis, an effective ghost-town was observed between Monday 7th and Thursday 10th. The trial was adjourned until the 7th of February.
The global body is also concerned about the country’s political situation. “Escalating tensions in Francophone Cameroon including protests in Douala and Yaounde included the Anglophone Crisis in their discourse. Maurice Kamto leader of the main opposition party, the MRC, was arrested on 30 January in connection with these tensions. Tensions increased as the month of February approached with the stated intention of some armed groups to declare a ‘lockdown’ for the month which would prohibit movement similar to ‘Ghost Town’ Mondays. This was subsequently reduced to a ten-day period from 4th to 14th during which significant days for the opposition forces would fall. Namely the trial of the leadership, National Youth Day and the anniversary of the plebiscite which joined Southern Cameroons and Cameroon.
Regarding insecurity, the UN stresses that “Insecurity in the affected regions remains high, with continuing armed attacks and confrontations between the military and armed groups. The crisis further worsened from mid-2018 onward due to increased hostilities ahead of the presidential election. Movements continue to be restricted in the two regions due to a curfew in the North-West, a “No Movement” declaration by non-state actors and the increase of both official and informal checkpoints.”
“In the South West, on 3 January CDC workers of the Rubber Plantation in Tiko, Fako Division while at work were attacked by Non-state armed men (NSAG). They were tortured, and their toes and fingers cut off for working in the Plantation against the policy of armed groups. In January, troops clashed with armed groups across the two regions with ensuing fatalities and destroyed properties and vehicles. Military operations increased in both regions to counter armed group plans for February ‘lockdown’. Preventive displacement and stockpiling was ongoing at the time of writing of this report. Declining security situation during the month is expected,” the report says.
Hostilities have continued to claim civilian lives, from indirect fire and from disturbing reports of targeted killings. Urban attacks have resulted in deaths from cross-fire and civilian casualties have been reported as a result of raids on villages. In late January, large scale military operations were launched in the Bafut area resulting in numerous casualties for both combatants and civilians. On 25 January, the military killed 11 people they suspected of being armed separatists in Mpundu-Balong in the Southwest region. Incidents were also reported taking place in Marumba and Tiko amongst others. Abductions continue to be an ongoing concern.
The violence has uprooted 437,500 people from their homes and forced over 32,000 to seek refuge in neighbouring Nigeria. Humanitarian organizations are striving to scale-up their presence in the conflict-hit regions. Shelters, NFI and Education have been identified in the North-West and South-West regions as the most urgent needs. Almost 50 per cent of the displaced have settled in rural areas and have an increased need for shelter and non-food items. More than 80% of girls and boys no longer have access to schooling on a continuous basis because of the crisis, the report says.
The outlook for 2019 is one of emergency response as displacement continues due to the ongoing conflict. Vulnerability is compounded as services deteriorate and resilience is eroded. Access remains challenging as poor levels of understanding of humanitarian action persist and infrastructure is damaged in armed conflict related operations to deny mobility to opposing forces. Armed fighting and insecurity continue to be the principal impediment to the provision of assistance as well as a barrier to those in need in terms of reaching areas where they can receive aid, the report says.
The majority of those displaced are women and children. Protection is the principal humanitarian concern as the ongoing conflict is the main cause of human suffering. Food and shelter are also of concern as displacement continues apace. Needs across all sectors are high and are being further compounded as the conflict deepens. Of particular concern is access to water for areas requiring water transportation during days when movement is limited. Many of the conflict-affected populations are growing more vulnerable as the violence persists and humanitarian assistance remains inadequate, the report stresses.
The deployment of humanitarian actors to the field continues. A further allocation of CERF to Cameroon will in part support humanitarian activities in the North-West and South-West regions. As of 7 January, donors had provided 35 per cent of the US$15.2 million required as per the emergency response plan, according to the Financial Tracking Service (FTS). This amount constitutes the US$5.1 million CERF allocation under the rapid response window. Additional contributions were received by other donors but not yet reported on FTS.
The report states that the Humanitarian Response Plan will be launched on 20 February 2019. The number of people estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance in 2019 has increased by 31 per cent compared to 2018, from 3.3 million to 4.3 million. The number of people who will be targeted for assistance has also increased from last year, from 1.3 million to 2.3 million. This increase is mainly attributed to emerging needs in the North-West and South-West regions. More than a quarter of people targeted by the response (28 per cent or 820,000 people) lives in the North-West and South-West regions, which are now priority areas of intervention. Sectors need US$ 93 million – or 31 per cent of the total appeal – to support 437,000 IDPs in these two regions, the West and Littoral, and 376,000 vulnerable host communities due to forced displacement and disruption of social and health services.
On the 22 January, the Ministry of Territorial Administration held the first meeting of the Emergency Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Centre in Yaounde as decreed by the Prime Minister on 21 November. The UN is expected to be invited to the next meeting. Antenna meetings in Buea and Bamenda have been indicatively planned for February. The humanitarian community continues to work towards a coordinated approach to ensure upholding of humanitarian principles while delivering urgently needed assistance.
The inter-cluster capacity mapping for the South-West Region has been completed and that of the North-West Region has been initiated. The Access Working Group reinitiated its activities in the New Year and continued its efforts on an access mapping. A repository of administrative requirements and procedures is being created and ground rules for field staff are being developed with the objective of strengthening a unified principled approach of all humanitarian actors vis-à-vis both parties to the conflict.
The report also stresses that six of the eight activated clusters, and the Areas of Responsibility (AoR) for Child Protection and Gender Based Violence were functional during the month. Education and Logistics were not staffed. Several clusters and AoRs were able to also implement coordination activities in the North-West and it is hoped that the others will follow in late February following the ‘lockdown’.
The report also underscores that the food security situation of internally-displaced populations and affected host and local communities in the North West and South West regions remains critical and continues to deteriorate as many of them cannot access their farms for crop production. The findings of the ongoing VAM/FSMA are expected to provide a clearer picture in terms of the severity levels and the geography of food insecurity. Preliminary results of the IPC Chronic Food Insecurity Analysis in the regions have indicated that poor households (with little or no income from both host and local communities) and IDPs could move from being moderately/borderline food insecure (Phase 2) to having acute food and livelihoods security needs (phase 3, Crisis) from February 2019.
In January, General Food Distribution by WFP took place in in Meme and Manyu Divisions in the South West region. As of 26 January, Food distribution has reached 17,000 beneficiaries for the month. WFP organized a Training for Rapid Emergency Food Security Assessment (EFSA) on 4-6 January. Data collection was also conducted. The preliminary results are expected to be released in early February.
At the same time, FAO’s emergency livelihoods projects are underway. The poultry project which aims to reach 1,000 households, targeting both IDPs and affected host and local communities, has completed its inception phase in partnership with a local NGO. Cluster coordination meetings took place on 17 January for the South-West, and on 31 January for the North-West.
Regarding health, a large proportion of health structures have closed completely or open only sporadically to provide services. Most middle level and senior health staff (medical doctors) have abandoned their posts as they face increased security risks including kidnapping and retaliation for treating patients belonging to parties of the conflict. In many structures, service continuation is only guaranteed by lower level staff with higher level of acceptability as they are usually long-term community members.
Provision of supplies, including vaccines, and medicines to health structures is dangerous. Violent incidents and attacks on health care are widely reported and shared on social media. Since the end of January, partners can report attacks through the health care platform (http://ssa.who.int) to increase visibility and acknowledgment of the problem and advocate for change.
With the sustained level of violence and displacement, mental health needs have dramatically increased while available services are limited. There is an urgent need to build capacity of all health care providers to provide mental health first aid to patients, as well as to be the recipient of these services for their own wellbeing.
The disease surveillance system has collapsed for more than 70 per cent of the territory putting the population at risk of epidemics with late detection and limited response capacity. WHO plans to address this gap by the roll-out of EWARS which has proven to be effective in numerous emergencies.
Data from partners and the HIV program indicate that the whereabouts of a large proportion of HIV positives enrolled in the program is unknown. The interruption of ARV medication puts HIV positives at risk to develop AIDS. With an overall HIV prevalence of 5.1 per cent in the North-West and 3.6 per cent in the South-West (CAMPHIA, 2018) there is a high risk of a dramatic increase of new infections.
Two Health cluster meetings took place in the South-West, and one in the North-West region, with the active participation of up to 29 organizations, including local and international NGOs and UN agencies. A sexual and reproductive health working group was also established. Coordination with the three largest faith-based organizations (Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian) providing primary, secondary and tertiary health care in the two regions is ongoing. Overall the medical teams in the faith-based structures have long historical presence in the communities they serve and a higher level of acceptability than health services provided through the public sector.
UN agencies are finalizing partnership agreements for the implementation of health interventions with local and international partners in their respective areas of expertise. Several INGOs have presented proposals to donors to start health interventions in collaboration with local partners. Some have started implementation preparation, including the establishment of presence in the region with the expectation to be funded soon.
This report is proof that the United Nations has been working behind the scenes to get things under control. Internally displaced persons and those in the two regions should therefore be advised that they can seek help at the nearest UN office in their region. For now, there are two UN offices in the two English-speaking regions of the country – Buea and Bamenda.
The UN’s presence on the ground will help the world to have a better picture of what is happening in the regions. It will also help to reboot the economies of the regions and create many indirect and direct jobs for people living in the two regions.
By Kingsley Betek in Yaounde, Irene Nanyongo in North America and Soter Tarh Agbaw-Ebai in the United Kingdom