How UNHCR and GPE support education in the Lake Chad Basin crisis

An interview with Liz K. Ahua of UNHCR and Douglas Lehman of GPE about the coordination of humanitarian and longer-term efforts in the crisis that affects Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon

Students make their way home from Yakoua school following classes in Bol, Lake Region, Chad © UNICEF/UN060499/Sokhin

Students make their way home from Yakoua school following classes in Bol, Lake Region, Chad, Friday 21 April 2017. There are 500 displaced children attending the school of 800 students and only eight teachers, causing strain on an already weak education system in Chad.

CREDIT: © UNICEF/UN060499/Sokhin

The Oslo donor conference for the Lake Chad region that took place in February 2017 raised US$672 million. How will these funds be spent?

Liz K. Ahua, UNHCR: The funds raised at the Oslo conference from 14 donor countries will be allocated over three years and are to a very large extent already included in the allocated budgets for the Nigeria crisis, so we are not talking about additional funds.

Of the total, US$458 million have been pledged for 2017 and will go into emergency lifesaving assistance, such as food, nutrition and health assistance, as the Lake Chad Basin region is highly food insecure and the malnutrition rate is alarmingly increasing. The remaining US$214 million will support longer-term development and durable solutions in 2018 and beyond.

The main target population will be internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Nigeria and in countries of asylum, as well as refugees in Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Another objective donor countries want us to achieve is to invest in livelihood activities and holistic approaches, in order to enable displaced populations to gradually become self-sufficient. Education plays an important role in that.

How do UN agencies coordinate their work with local and international civil society organizations to support refugees and IDPs?

Liz K. Ahua, UNHCR: UN agencies coordinate their IDP response with partners, including local and international NGOs and civil society organizations, using the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) cluster system in Niger and Chad and cluster-like structured Working Groups in Nigeria, led by the humanitarian coordinators.

In line with the Refugee Coordination Model and UNHCR’s mandate, UNHCR coordinates the refugee response with partners, based on a regional plan for Niger, Chad and Cameroon: the Nigeria Regional Refugee Response Plan 2017.

International and national NGOs, such as Plan International, the International Rescue Committee, COOPI, Save the Children or the Red Cross in Chad help us ensure an effective implementation on the ground.

However, given the mixed nature of the populations in Cameroon and Niger, where refugees and IDPs reside in the same locations with host communities and not in refugee camps, a flexible approach is being applied. For example, given the good coordination capacity of UNHCR in Cameroon, refugee sector working groups coordinate the overall response, while the accountability for the refugee response stays with UNHCR and for the IDP response with clusters and the Humanitarian Coordinators.    


Why do you think it is important to ensure that education needs be covered in emergency financing?

Liz K. Ahua, UNHCR: About 3.36 million children and youth aged 3-17 years are affected by the conflict. Of these children, 75,000 are Nigerian refugees. Children are the hardest hit and most vulnerable in this complex displacement crisis.

In emergency situations we need to protect children and adolescents from harm and exploitation and to minimize the interruption of their education. The classroom with a trained teacher is the best place to bring back some normalcy and stability to their uprooted and shaken lives. This is even more essential in the situation of the Nigerian kids that have been out of school for a very long time.  

Studies show that for each year a boy and a girl experience quality primary and secondary education we will gain positive effects for their lives, families and communities. The humanitarian response is lifesaving but also helps build resilience, capacities and contribute to long-lasting change.

UNHCR and its partners have invested in school infrastructure, teaching and learning materials, teacher deployment and training, and the collaboration with the national authorities in the Far-North of Cameroun, the Diffa region in Niger and the Lake region in Chad. It is our responsibility to provide services in which parents and children see a value and a chance for their future.

In Niger, students went to Kanu in Nigeria to sit for their final exams and were very successful. We achieved some good results in 2016. For example, in Chad, we enrolled 96% of refugee children targeted and we reached our goal to train 22 teachers. In Cameroon we enrolled almost 80% of the 3 to 5 year-olds in early childhood education programs and almost 90% of the 6 to 13 year-olds in primary education.

But crucial investments such as in learning and teaching materials, peace education, literacy programs for women and adults, or accelerated learning programs for out-of-school children could not be addressed. In the Far-North of Cameroon the educational and training needs of more than 10,000 refugee youth aged 14-17 years have not yet been addressed. Investment in education has lasting and invaluable effects on the life of the individual. Even more so for a refugee.  

Quality education and protective infrastructure have their price, but they are long-lasting investments. In 2017, UNHCR and its partners will need more than US$19 million to reach 132,000 displaced children and youth with quality formal and non-formal education in Far-North of Cameroon, the Diffa region in Niger and the Lake region in Chad.

The neglect of investments in education, training and employment has been a driver for the current crisis and hence quality education needs to be our strongest response to break the cycle of violence and poverty in the Lake Chad basin region.

What is GPE currently doing to support some of the displaced children and youth in the Lake Chad region?

Douglas Lehman, GPE: Chad made use of GPE’s accelerated support facility to request US$6.95 million of its country allocation for an emergency program. This was to support the response to the UN humanitarian appeal in the Lake Chad region.

The emergency program, requested by the Ministry of Education and implemented by UNICEF Chad, was designed to benefit 8,500 children, both refugees and displaced, to give them access to school lunches and improved learning environments through local schools (including construction), distribution of pedagogical materials, and other interventions. The grant was processed by GPE through an accelerated review process, which relies to some extent on the UN humanitarian appeal for determining appropriate types of activities.

The emergency program also helps to bridge over to development work and ensure there’s funding for this important next phase.

How will the new funding from Education Cannot Wait (ECW) help?

Douglas Lehman, GPE: Education Cannot Wait has convened local education partners, both humanitarian and development, and provided facilitation in order to secure a jointly elaborated funding proposal to the ECW fund, which ensures bridge-funding for urgent needs while additional development funding and new GPE funding will be made available. ECW is expanding what GPE’s accelerated emergency funding has started, covering adjacent areas around Lake Chad as well as responding to similar crises in the south and east of Chad along the Central African Republic and Sudan borders respectively. 

The complementarity between GPE and ECW funding is evident and support from ECW secretariat also during the inception and implementation of ECW-funded activities is helpful for further coordination in the sector.

How does GPE collaborate with humanitarian actors in crises like these?

Douglas Lehman, GPE: When GPE programs are developed in emergency situations, the Education Cluster plays an important role in the design. The humanitarian appeal and the country’s sector plan are the primary reference documents which, in the case of Chad, both benefited from the support of the Cluster. This initial investment in a plan and the appeal makes it possible to move forward quickly with an emergency response.


Liz. K. Ahua is currently Regional Representative for West Africa covering 15 countries that make up the Economic Community of West Africa States, a position she took up in 2014, having served at the Headquarters of the UN Refugee Agency. Doubling as Regional Refugee Coordinator (RRC) for the Nigeria crisis situation, she oversees Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria itself. Additionally, she has also been RRC for the Central African Republic Situation (2013 – 2016). She has over 23 years of experience serving humanity in various influential capacities and countries across Africa.

Douglas Lehman is a Senior Education Specialist at the GPE Secretariat, and leads GPE’s work in Chad, the Republic of Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea and Mali.

Sub-Saharan Africa: Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria


The Global Partnership for Education Secretariat is headquartered in Washington DC and has approximately 100 staff. The Secretariat provides administrative and operational support to all its partners including...

Latest blogs

Today Global Citizen, the Send My Friend to School coalition, and the One Campaign are taking the voices of 1.4 million to the UK Prime Minister to call for investment in education for all children,...
This year over 43,000 students around Japan participated in the “The World’s Biggest Lesson” campaign, organized by the Japan NGO Network for Education (JNNE). This organization provides lesson...
The PAEQUE (Equity and Quality for Improved Learning) program, supported by a GPE grant has achieved promising results in improving the quality of education and promoting equity in Cameroon.