Thank you Mr President for agreeing to hold this session at our request.
And thank you too, Jeff and Stephen for your highly effective briefings today. I’d like to begin this morning with the harrowing words of Stefan Heunis, a photographer working for AFP who visited a camp for internally displaced people near Maiduguri in Nigeria.
Stefan wrote this in his blog earlier today:
“The camp is now home to nearly 16,000 people and is growing by the day. You can practically taste the despair – there is no food, few opportunities and no shade.
Flies looking for moisture in the dry heat pester the eyes and mouths of women and children too weak to swat them away.
What strikes me most about severe acute malnutrition is the deformation it causes. The head becomes much bigger in proportion to the body, and the angular changes of the skeleton. Bones start protruding from under the skin, almost piercing it.”
This humanitarian nightmare is the direct consequence of Boko Haram. They are a group that we are all familiar with. We all called out in unison for the return of those young women from Chibok, we all demanded “bring back our girls”. But now over two years on, can we say that we have really maintained our focus?
Today is our chance to bring overdue attention back to this crisis.
The plight of the people of the Lake Chad Basin is almost beyond comprehension. Because of Boko Haram’s anarchy, millions across the region now require urgent humanitarian assistance. Around 800,000 people are living on the verge of famine. For many, I fear that we are simply too late.
So many of those in need are children. As Stephen said, UNICEF estimates suggest that as many as a quarter of a million children are now suffering from severe, acute malnutrition in Borno state. Around one in five will die if they don’t receive urgent treatment.
So we must act fast, and I thank you again Mr President, for convening this session so speedily. I see three priorities ahead.
First, strong, clear leadership from the UN is needed to coordinate the international effort, particularly given the challenging conditions on the ground and the continued instability. We strongly support the work already done by the UN, including to raise the international profile of the plight of these communities.
But it is also imperative that the international community and governments in the region redouble their efforts to support the UN, so that together we can significantly scale-up the delivery of urgently needed support.
And that means putting our hands in our pockets. The United Kingdom was one of the first donors to respond to this crisis, and I thank Stephen for acknowledging this. In 2015, we provided $32 million in humanitarian assistance in Niger, Chad and North Cameroon, and this year we’ve already provided an additional $34 million. In Nigeria, we’ve provided nearly $11 million to support conflict affected people in the north east and will provide an additional $42 million over the next three years.
We are currently considering where we could do more and I hope others around this table will do the same. We look to the UN for further details on the priority needs in the region and how best we can support their plans for the response.
But we know that this isn’t just about money. So we strongly support the deployment of additional UN staff to the region, particularly those with relevant experience in dealing with such complex, ongoing humanitarian crises.
My second point, Mr President, is about protection. This must be at the centre of our response to the crisis. So many people in the Lake Chad Basin have suffered at the hands of Boko Haram and fled their towns and villages in response. So it is vital that the displaced are only returned to their homes when it is safe to do so. And we encourage all actors to work together to report, mitigate and address protection violations against displaced people, refugees and other vulnerable groups. We support the work between UNHCR and governments in the region on this issue
My third and final point is that while it’s vital that we treat the symptoms of this crisis, and quickly, we also need to address the root causes. And that means stopping the conflict.
Defeating Boko Haram across the region will require a comprehensive approach, one that builds stability, tackles extremist narratives and addresses the root causes of instability, including economic and political development.
It’s a comprehensive approach that needs to put the protection and empowerment of women at its centre, combating the misogyny and oppression that is so ingrained in violent extremism.
And it’s an approach that needs to offer something that the extremists can never provide: the rule of law. For this reason it is vital that any action against Boko Haram must be fully compliant with human rights standards.
And ultimately, it’s a comprehensive approach that we all need to support. As Jeff kindly highlighted, the UK has provided $6.5 million to the multinational joint task force and we are providing military, intelligence, humanitarian and development support to Nigeria too.
So I hope that all members of this Council will play their part, to tackle both the humanitarian crisis and the scourge that has created it. I look forward to hearing from all of you today about how between us we can step up.