The Government of Norway is reportedly planning to reallocate its development funds to support more in-donor refugee costs.
The in-donor refugee costs are being used to accommodate refugees from Ukraine amid the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.
But the move has raised concerns over a diversion of funds from existing commitments in low-income countries like Nigeria.
In a statement by the Norwegian government in May, the revised budget proposal would see an estimated 4 billion Norwegian krone ($415.7 million) in development funds reallocated to in-donor refugee costs, a project founded by 37 member-state of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) seeking to improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world. The in-donor refugee project is to allow members to assist refugees in their countries.
The government said its overall aid budget — NOK 44.9 billion ($4.7 billion)— which increased by NOK 3.6 billion ($376.5 million), would be halved to cater for “refugee-related measures in Norway” while funding (emergency assistance) for Ukraine and neighbouring countries would increase by NOK 1.75 billion ($183.2 million) to NOK 2 billion ($209.4 million).
Although the proposed budget still needs to be vetted by the parliament, aid actors are concerned that the move would shift focus away from humanitarian emergencies in Africa, where funding has been falling since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020.
The proposed budget cuts would see funding to the United Nations agencies fall exponentially. For example, grants to the UN Development Programme would reduce by NOK 440 million ($46 million), UNICEF by NOK 357.5 million ($39.3 million), and WHO by NOK 118 million ($12.3 million).
Funding to Africa would be down by NOK 250 million ($26.2 million).
António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, said he was concerned that the budget cuts would significantly affect the key UN agencies providing support in Africa.
A bout of activities providing life-saving support may end in the continent.
Recipients of these aid activities — particularly Nigeria and Ethiopia — score worse in a “fragile states index” than they did 15 years ago.
Both countries were listed in the top ten most neglected displacement crises by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), which based its findings on the lack of media attention, funding, and international political will.
Like elsewhere in Africa, Nigeria heavily depends on foreign aid from international donors, especially in providing life-saving assistance to the most vulnerable populations in the country.
The situation has forced 3.2 million people out of their homes and thrown them into a humanitarian crisis. Moreover, as the displaced people move to different communities to live with host families already living in difficult conditions, hunger levels have steeped with the effects of COVID-19 fallouts.
According to the World Bank, around 83 million Nigerians lived below the poverty line, with 53 million vulnerable people in 2020. The figure rose exponentially due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2022, at least 8.4 million people need humanitarian assistance in the Northeast, according to the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan. In addition, it revealed that $1.1 billion is required to cover 5.5 million people out of the vulnerable populations.
Data from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) financial tracking service shows that Nigeria has received $218.9 million in funding from international donors.
The Norwegian government, one of Nigeria’s major donors, has only contributed $3.1 million.
Sectors that could be affected
The Norwegian Refugee Council, largely funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (NMFA), has been engaging in several projects that cut across various sectors such as information, counselling and legal assistance, rapid response mechanism, education, camp management, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) promotion, shelter and settlements, and coordination and advocacy.
The NRC had a budget of over $24 million intended to expand access to services for internally displaced people.
However, reduced funding to the humanitarian sector poses a grave risk, thrusting many people, especially returned displaced people, into uncertainty.
The aid organisation has programmes at risk of the proposed financial cuts. The programmes include over $9.9 million for improving food security and access to reliable livelihoods for insecure, vulnerable households in northern Nigeria.
The project affects thousands of people whose lives have been upended by the Boko Haram insurgency in Borno, Adamawa Yobe states benefiting from the programme.
Other threatened sectors include over $3million for the water and sanitation budget, the child education grant of over $1.9 million and the WASH projects of almost £100 million.
The access to justice and the Northeast security, conflict and stabilisation programmes, totalling close to $3 million, could also be hindered if support is withdrawn or scaled back.
Already, the NRC is facing a funding shortfall as the war in Ukraine, which has displaced over 14 million people, has cast a shadow on other neglected crises like Nigeria’s.
“In the neglected crises in Africa, we are facing an impossible choice because we lack the money. We have to decide who will or will not get support because we don't have enough money to help everyone,” Tom Pyre-costa, the spokesperson for the NRC in Central and West Africa, told HumAngle via a text message.
“So, we are just forced to only answer to the absolute emergencies such as new displacement, people on the brink of famine, people who need urgent food and water or shelter.”
A familiar trend?
Even before the war broke out in Ukraine, the trend of aid cuts in Nigeria has remained. Factors such as donor fatigue and COVID-19 fallouts gave rise to the trend.
Aid funding continued to plummet for four consecutive years, according to the NRC. In 2020, for instance, only 59 per cent of the required humanitarian response plan, $1 billion, was covered. That is, all UN agencies and aid organisations cobbled together to use $632 million to provide for 10.6 million people needing assistance and protection despite the COVID-19 health emergency.
In 2021, the United Kingdom (UK) tried to cut its funding to the country by almost 53 per cent due to the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That year, humanitarian situations were further exacerbated with the closure of formal displacement camps in Maiduguri, Borno State capital and outskirts of the capital, Jere, with 66,000 displaced people searching for a home.
At least six camps have been closed over what the state government called an effort to relieve the displaced people of aid dependence. But resettled IDPs, who had hoped for a new beginning, have complained of hunger after the ban on food distribution.
“It is not easy feeding the family,” Modu Bulu, a resettled IDP who lost everything to the insurgency and now barely scraps by selling kola nuts, told HumAngle. “There are even days that we can only manage to eat once, but it is still better than what we saw in Kukawa town.”
With aid cuts, the vulnerable populations would be left to fend for themselves. However, aid dependency has spurred debates within the humanitarian community over the need for local initiatives to foster sustainable solutions.
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