Living in fear of attacks, suicide bombings and abductions makes earning a living difficult. But, for many people living in long-term conflict, it’s the only way for them to move forward with their lives and help their societies become self-sufficient again.
Take the case of northeast Nigeria, where a nine-year-long armed conflict has forced more than 2 million people from their homes, with more than 1.5 million displaced within the country. Unfortunately it’s far from over.
Earlier this year, I visited 1,500 newly displaced people living under trees in Monguno, Nigeria. They depend on humanitarian aid to survive each day. Like many people fleeing conflict, these Nigerian families lack access to healthcare, shelter, education and, above all, safety. They will need much help in the short run.
But what about the long run? A military solution alone cannot resolve the Lake Chad conflict, which affects Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Building economic opportunities can help societies heal and can help restore social cohesion in places broken by protracted conflicts.
We at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) understand that helping people move away from humanitarian assistance handouts and toward a more sustainable way of generating income is the only way for war-torn societies to move forward.
That’s why, in consultation with affected communities, we provide families not only with aid that meets their immediate survival needs – food, water, health and shelter – but also with seeds and farming tools, fishing gear and small cash grants that can be used to start a business or generate income.
The ICRC recently advanced this approach through its partnership with the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF), the largest African philanthropic initiative, to give individuals in the northeastern state of Borno grants of up to $5,000 to implement innovative ideas in agriculture, healthcare, microfinance, construction, commerce and fashion. We encourage people without advanced education, widows and people with disabilities to apply.
Across the Lake Chad region, we work to help people feel they are cared for, protected and treated with dignity. We tell all sides of the conflict that civilians must not be targeted and must be allowed to seek medical care. This is the kind of protection vulnerable families need. In the case of our partnership with the Tony Elumelu Foundation, we are protecting families by providing them with business opportunities.
On my visit to northeast Nigeria in early 2018, I moved among the 90,000 internally displaced people in Monguno. The needs of those who lived there for years are different to those among the 1,500 people who just arrived. Clearly there remains a need for emergency assistance.
But as soon as we can, we want to help people move out of the aid phase and into the income-generating phase so that they may be self-sufficient once again. As the conflict in Nigeria nears its 10th year, we must help people plan for the future, so that they can contribute to economic activity for their families and community.
That’s a small step toward building peace.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Peacebuilding Deeply.