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In recent years the region around Lake Chad – a body of fresh water in west-central Africa that straddles Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria and Niger – has become an epicentre of violence. The resulting suffering and displacement has meant that MSF has expanded its operations in the region but unfortunately the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis remains largely unknown.

For many years the lake has been shrinking, which has forced people to compete for resources and has resulted in conflict, food insecurity, livestock deaths and increased poverty. There are recurrent outbreaks of disease in the region, and healthcare is almost non-existent.

Since May 2013, attacks by Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP), also known Boko Haram, have put even more pressure on the populations and have forced thousands of people from their homes and across borders. Retaliatory governmental military operations have also contributed to mass displacement, and to-date over 2.5 million people have been rendered homeless as a result of violence. This is fast becoming Africa’s largest displacement crisis, and is aggravating what was already a grave situation.

 

Dr Jean-Clément Cabrol, MSF Director of Operations

“What is striking about this crisis is the sheer terror under which people are living. Attacks are occurring at markets, [in] places of worship and schools causing widespread fear and displacement. Meanwhile, counter-offensives and violence force people out of their villages to search for a place to live in safety and peace. People feel unsafe and are unwilling to return to their homes. It is as if they are just waiting. It is difficult to see what the future will hold for them.”

Hadza El-Hagizegri – a refugee living in Dar es Salam camp, Baga Sola. She fled her village near Baga, Nigeria, after an ISWAP attack in January when she was five months pregnant.

“I took a boat with my family. It took four days to cross the lake and reach Chad. I delivered my seventh child two days ago under the tent in the refugee camp with the help of other refugee women. Now I am scared for the future because we have not had food for five days. For the moment I can deal with this situation with the help of other refugees. But if more food is not distributed in the camp we will go back to Nigeria, even though ISWAP is still a threat.”