Imagine if your family was killed in front of you. Then, with no time to process what has occurred and or grieve, you are forced to hide in the wilderness for months to save your own life. After some time, some local non-governmental organizations and UN agencies find you and provide you with food, clean water, shelter and some soap. Then one day, even that little assistance is forced to be suspended, or even worse, stopped.
That is the reality that most Cameroonians in the English-speaking parts of the country live in today.
It has made the crisis in the English-speaking parts of Cameroon,as well as the other emergencies in the country (related to the Boko Haram crisis in Cameroon’s Far North and the influx of refugees from the Central African Republic in Cameroon’s East and North), among the most neglected and underfunded humanitarian crises in the world.
In the English-speaking North-West and South-West regions alone, there are more than 1.3 million people in need of aid – which corresponds to a third of the local population. This is an eight-fold increase compared with 2018, when 160,000 people were estimated to need humanitarian assistance in those regions.
This past January, Dorothy, 65, watched her husband and three of her five children being killed in front of her. She had to find the strength to pull her two other children and run. They have been on the run and in hiding ever since.
Peter,* 50, is a single father of five children. Two years ago, he was managing a community water project in one of the English-speaking regions. “It was a good job and I was able to provide for my children up until the day I was attacked.”
In September 2018, his right hand was cut off during an attack.
“I immediately collapsed with blood pouring out,” he recalled. The villagers called the mayor, who rushed Peter to the hospital.
“I was in the hospital for about two weeks – I wanted to come home to be with my children. It was a terrible time and I was so scared the attackers would come back and harm my children,” he said.
Now living with a disability, he has no source of income. His family depends on neighbours and well-wishers to feed them.
His children are at home, as the local school was closed after the teachers were threatened and quit their jobs. “We need our schools open and we need peace now.”
Dr David Smith *
Dr. Smith is a surgeon at a hospital in the English-speaking part of Cameroon. The hospital where he works treats victims of the violent crisis, many of whom are wounded or die from gunshot wounds or machete injuries.
“We look after those who arrive pregnant from the bush and those who suffer from the difficulty of living in the bush with ailments such as malaria and snake bites,” he said.
Dr. Smith says that the hospital faces many other difficult situations. “At times the military come and takes away our wounded patients – and we never hear from them ever again.”
This kind of insecurity has led to problems such as lack of qualified staff. “Doctors and surgeons don’t want to come to this region and work.” The hospital also lacks equipment. “We desperately need help to equip our theatres and wards, and urgently need maternity incubators, for instance.”
All the efforts to provide assistance to the affected people are being jeopardized by the lack of international attention and critical lack of funding.
The overall humanitarian response plan for Cameroon this year requested about US$300 million, but remains severely underfunded at only 19 per cent.
For the North-West and South-West regions in particular, aid groups need $93 million to support 820,000 people with humanitarian assistance. Only $14 million has been received so far. More funding is urgently needed to sustain the humanitarian response.
*Names have been changed.