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COVID-19 impacts needs of IDPs

With populations displaced growing in the wake of manmade conflicts and natural disasters, the resources to cater to their myriad needs are inadequate.

With populations displaced growing in the wake of manmade conflicts and natural disasters, the resources to cater to their myriad needs are inadequate.

Ier Jonathan-Ichaver, co-founded the disaster relief agency Sesor Empowerment Foundation 2010 in response to a personal tragedy—the displacement of her grandmother in a communal crisis in Benue.

Since then, Sesor has been advocating for and providing emergency relief and rehabilitation support to people who have been displaced as a result of conflicts, natural disasters and other emergency situations that result in mass displacement.

Beyond internally displaced persons (IDPs), the foundation works with Nigerians  to help them prepare and cope in emergency situations.

Jonathan-Ichaver says challenges for internally displaced populations are mounting over resources to offer relief.

How many Internally Displaced Persons are you working with at the moment and in how many states?

Since inception, we have impacted 10,000 displaced persons in 8 states across Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory through the provision of relief materials and have provided educational support to about 180 affected children. Displaced women in Lagos and Borno state have also received microgrants and microloans to help them make a living for better life outcomes and living conditions.

Currently we are working to provide over 145 displaced women with livelihood support funds in Lagos and Benue. We are focusing on these two states because they do not receive enough federal and national attention for their displaced people.

In Lagos, we have been working with 85 families since July 2020  and have given them soft loans as livelihood support. If you extrapolate, each household has a minimum of 6 people totaling about 500 displaced people that would be impacted. In Benue state we will work with 60 women and their families. In total we would be reaching 800 people through our livelihood support programs.

What kind of intervention do you give to the IDPs?

Some of the interventions we provide to IDPs include relief materials like food, access to basic health checks through our partners, educational support for affected children and access to finance through the provision of grants and microloans. The grants and microloans we provide help our IDP women start and grow their microbusinesses and in turn place them on track to alleviating their livelihood situation and attaining better life outcomes.

Just before and during the COVID-19 lockdown, we provided cash assistance and food items to about 289 displaced and disadvantaged persons to help cushion the effects of the lockdown. We also trained 100 displaced women in Benue on how to make face masks. As earlier mentioned, since July this year, we have provided soft loans to 85 displaced women in Lagos to support their livelihoods and are getting ready to do the same for at least 60 women in Benue State.

WIth regards to the general well being and mental health of IDPs, we provide psychosocial support. Through this, displaced women and children receive basic health checks from our partner doctors, counseling and also get the opportunity to relax in a safe environment. We are currently in the process of forming partnerships with a number of organizations to ensure that we are better positioned to meet the psychological needs of our IDPs.

How will you assess the degree of insecurity in Nigeria and the rate at which Nigerians are being displaced?

The degree and rate at which Nigerians are being displaced on a daily basis from terror attacks, communal conflicts, government actions– e.g community demolitions, flooding, pipeline explosions, fire outbreak, building collapse amongst others is increasingly alarming. Unfortunately, as far as we know, data and trends from these occurrences are not adequately recorded by the Nigerian government. However, according to figures provided by the United Nations (UN) refugee agency United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) there are over 2.7 million people have been displaced due to the Boko Haram insurgency in north-eastern Nigeria while UNICEF places the 2019 figure of internally displaced children by conflict and violence at 19 million.

Presently, we do not have the resources and capacity to independently seek protection for displaced persons against rape, child marriage and other forms of abuse and molestation. However, when the need arises, we partner with existing organisations whose core focus are in these areas. For us at Sesor, our main focus is helping those we work with survive and build back their lives through the provision of relief materials and access to finance.

What challenges do you face working with IDPs?

Our major challenge is a dearth of resources to adequately meet the myriad of needs of our IDPs. We also face the challenge of gaining access to IDPs because most often they are in places hard to reach coupled with insecurity and unsafe conditions. In Lagos, many of these IDPs  live in the slums which lack basic amenities like good road networks; when it rains, it becomes very challenging  reaching them. One of the ways we are solving this problem is by providing a safe place to meet to provide the required services and support. While this may work for our IDPs in Lagos, the story is different for those in Benue state. They are spread out in places like Ikyogen, Jato Aka and in camps at Daudu, Agatu and Tse Ginde.

Again, these places are not easily accessible and we sometimes need to transport relief materials through boats and ferries. Some of these places have active conflicts hence we need to be extremely careful and security conscious as we engage the IDPs.

We also suffer psychological effects from dealing with, seeing and experiencing the sore state of people who have been so affected by conflicts, natural disasters and other emergency situations over a long period of time.

What are the different ways the pandemic has exacerbated the challenges faced by IDPs?

Since the outbreak of  COVID-19 in Nigeria many of the IDPs as well as other groups at the bottom of the pyramid have experienced major setbacks in their journey to gaining financial freedom. Their source of livelihoods and micro businesses were greatly impacted especially during the lockdown. While there have been a number of government interventions, prioritization for IDPs has been very low leaving private-led and non-governmental organisations to support them.

In solving the financial security challenges, firstly, it is important for the government to restrategize to ensure that IDPs are included in its interventions. Secondly, providing and deepening access to financial services is a critical driver and the pandemic presents a golden opportunity that must be leveraged to usher the  IDPs, many of who are currently unbanked, into the formal financial system.

Learning from other countries like the Philippines, Sierra Leone and Liberia that have passed through major crisis situations similar to COVID-19, financial aid that has been earmarked to support IDPs can be disbursed through electronic means like mobile money agents and directly to their mobile phones.

More generally, as much as the prevention of contracting the coronavirus disease hinges on observing good personal hygiene, our IDPs are one of the groups that are likely to be most affected. They live in very cramped quarters with poor ventilation and many of their camps and settlements do not have running water thereby exposing them to the risks of COVID-19. Also, with the rising cost of food, they are also prone to nutritional health challenges as the problem of eating a balanced diet has been further widened coupled with their already low immunity they are more susceptible to COVID-19.

Addressing this challenge is a question of if the government has the political will and competence to do so. We have seen in the last few weeks that even distributing food aid during the COVID-19 lockdown was a challenge.  We therefore need people with the political will, compassion and dedication to make sure things are done right. Our government needs to do their job and take a more proactive approach in dealing with this as many IDPs are often forgotten with no serious concerted effort to bring about a lasting change for them.

Following the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the vulnerable in the society, what programmes and interventions have Sesor Empowerment Foundation introduced to mitigate the suffering on IDPs?

We basically provided cash assistance to about 89 women and their families pre-lockdown. We gave them money to stock up before the lockdown was announced and we distributed food to over 200 families during the lockdown. Since then an additional 85 women in Lagos have received micro loans, between ₦20,000 – ₦60,000 to support their businesses can carry economic activities. This was achieved through our partnership with Grooming Centre. In Benue, in partnership with Enough Is Enough (EIE) and sponsorship from the Ford Foundation, we trained 100 internally displaced women on how to make face masks. We are currently distributing 23,000 face masks across Benue and a lot of these face masks were made by our internally displaced women.

To what extent does the financial inclusion of IDPs lead to improved socio-economic outcomes for them?

Being financially included goes beyond owning a bank account, it means providing access for previously excluded individuals to financial products and services. Once they get this access they have a better chance to access economic opportunities that will result in better life outcomes and ultimately give them financial security and freedom. While IDPs have limited options when it comes to financial empowerment,  getting them into the financial system presents vast socio-economic benefits. From our experience providing micro loans to our IDPs we have seen, first hand, some of the positive changes that will occur.  Benefiting IDPs are able to independently make a living and reduce their dependence on handouts and donations. Some of the internally displaced women we work with have reported their ability to take better care of their families, afford basic health care, send their kids to school with enough to spare for their transport fare and lunch allowance. We have also recorded success stories of our women expanding their small and micro businesses.   

In your opinion, what are the most important pillars required to empower displaced persons in a sustainable way?

In my opinion, there are four important pillars needed to empower displaced persons sustainably. Firstly, solving their housing problems and providing adequate security is a critical solution. Many of them live under very unsafe conditions – mainly slums. They need to be resettled and reintegrated properly so they can live in decent and dignified housing schemes.

Secondly, it is about improving their socioeconomic outcomes and providing solid ways for them to make a living, start or sustain businesses. This can be achieved by providing access to financial services beyond opening bank accounts. They would need access to microcredits, mobile money agents, saving schemes and other useful products within the financial services portfolio to help them thrive sustainably.

Thirdly we need to ensure that the out-of-school children among them are able to return to school and ensure that they can access quality education for better life outcomes. For some of the adults, we have seen that they need to be  re-educated, a lot of the women we work with are not literate in English or numerate in the ways we are used hence they need support to be able to gain these and other new skills to fully reintegrate into the system. 

Lastly, health care for physical and mental health needs need to be provided. The government may consider creating health insurance or health financing programs for displaced persons to ensure they can access quality health services. The quality of medical care they can receive from hospitals and health centers is also very critical because it is when people are healthy that they can make a living, access financial services and become financially included. There may also be a need to train healthcare workers on how to deal with displaced persons, their bedside manners may be wrong due to a number factors  including language and cultural barriers. 

At the 2018 National Migration Dialogue on ‘Realising the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for all including migrants, refugees and internally- displaced persons’, President Muhammadu Buhari announced that the government intends to adopt a new national policy that regulates the internal displacement crisis and complement the fight against insurgency. Which IDP challenges would you like addressed in this policy?

I would like to see the pillars (housing, livelihood, education and health care) highlighted in my subsequent answer addressed. One other thing that has not received enough airtime and I think the policy should address is justice and compensation for the losses of internally displaced persons. Many of them have lost loved ones and their property, it is very important that there is justice and restitution as it helps the healing process especially for those dealing with trauma and losses.

Senator Basheer Garba Mohammad, Federal Commissioner of Refugees Commission announced in June that the commission is rebuilding resettlement cities with social amenities across the states to accommodate IDPs. What amenities will have the most impact as it relates to resettling IDPs.

Housing is huge, their housing should be decent with proper ventilation, potable water, good sanitation and toilets etc. The environment should be clean and of course it will be good to have play spaces for children to express themselves and green spaces because these things help healing processes. Children and the youths have the right to play and engage in recreational activities, hence providing sports facilities should be considered. Even our cities lack adequate areas or green areas for citizens and children and this presents and to rebuild and redesign stronger. Additionally, there should be educational and health facilities and perhaps a decent and clean market.  In any housing project spaces for gardening and home farming to grow some food should be provided. 

Dr Isa Ali Pantami, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy recently announced that the country’s digital identity programme would start by enrolling internally displaced persons (IDP) across the country. To what extent would having a formal identity lead to improved socio-economic outcomes for displaced persons

If people who are displaced have a formal identity card, they can get a bank account and access certain government services they wouldn’t be able to access otherwise. For example, to participate in some government health insurance schemes, financial intervention projects, scholarships and even housing projects, you need an identification. Providing formal identity for them will also prevent them from being harassed by security agents if they are able to identify themselves with a government issued means identification. It will go a long way towards increasing their socio-economic well-being and inclusion because then they will be accounted and planned for. It will also help the country from a security and planning point of view, to know who is who.

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