September 2017 marked an escalation of tensions in the North-West (NW) and South-West (SW) regions of Cameroon as part of the ongoing crisis between government forces and non-state armed groups. The number of security incidents in these regions has significantly increased, leading to the displacement of 437,500 people as of December 2018, both within NW and SW and to neighbouring Littoral and West regions.According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), an estimated 4 million people are affected by the crisis, including 1,3 million in need of assistance.2 However, insecurity and a lack of information on the needs of the affected population have created significant challenges for the humanitarian response.
To address this information gap and enable a more effective humanitarian response, the Shelter and WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) Clusters, with support from REACH, have conducted an assessment on the needs of conflict-affected populations in NW, SW, Littoral and West regions. Based on the Shelter Cluster strategy, the assessment focused on the needs of five population groups (displaced self-settled, displaced hosted, displaced renting, non-displaced hosting, non-displaced in partially damaged accommodations). The assessment covered 18 divisions of SW, NW, Littoral and West experiencing internal displacement, and in three types of geographies (urban or semi-urban areas, villages in rural areas and non-village/bush in rural areas settings).3 In partnership with five local partners (Reachout, PEP, SUDHASER, COHESODC and Plan International), data was collected between 4 and 17 December 2018 through interviews with 157 key informants (KIs) providing information on their population group and their locality. Due to significant access, time, and resource constraints, a qualitative approach was implemented in order to be able to compare findings across the main displacement groups, geographic and administrative boundaries as defined in the current Shelter/NFI Cluster strategy.
Due to insecurity, data was collected through paper data collection forms, which limited verification of data in a near real time basis. Also due to time and access constraints, the methodology of this assessment was based on key informant interviews. Because of this, the assessment findings are more qualitative in nature and cannot be used to extrapolate beneficiaries or form population estimates. The findings however provide a qualitative framework to further analyse the situation and plan an appropriate shelter strategic response.
This assessment is one important step to give the Shelter Cluster an analytical framework with which to work. As the situation continues to evolve and remains quite fluid both in terms of population movement and damage to shelter, the Shelter Cluster will have to adapt and work with the scarcity of information in order to make realistic planning scenarios.
Two additional displaced person groups were identified through this study: people that have self-settled in urban areas and in collective centres (public buildings). Furthermore, there is a lack of clarity on the situation with the type of tenure arrangement that this displaced population has: whether these IDPs are hosted or renting or if they have another form of arrangement. Shelter Cluster partners are highly encouraged to look further into these arrangements and to share findings with the Shelter Cluster. Subsequently, the Shelter Cluster Strategy should be revised in order to meet the needs of this population.
The assessment found significant shelter and non-food item (NFI) needs amongst assessed populations, regardless of displacement status or location, as reflected by the overwhelming majority of KIs (95%) reporting affected populations as in need of shelter assistance. This can be explained by widespread damage to shelters, with 44% of KIs reporting complete destruction of shelters, and 30% reporting partial destruction. Bedding items, cooking utensils and mosquito nets were found to be priority NFI needs for the displaced, while mosquito nets were reportedly the least available items in the market. Assessment findings indicate that the displaced generally fled within a relatively short distances from their areas of origin. This is an indication of a likelihood of the displaced to return to their homes to rebuild damaged shelters, once the security is completely re-established. As of this stage, the damage and destruction of homes continue, therefore Shelter actors should prepare for a significant shelter support response as soon as the security situation stabilizes. In addition, insecurity was found to be the main driver of displacement, reported by 90% of KIs. The main displacement movements of IDPs are consistent with the increase in violence recorded since late 2017. There is not yet any indication of stabilization in displacement movements, which continue to be dynamic and ongoing.
Significant differences were observed between population groups, settings and regions. Displaced selfsettled populations were found to be overall most in need. They were most commonly found in rural, nonvillage settings, which lack basic infrastructure and access to basic services, such as markets. The most common shelter types they were reported to live in (makeshift shelters, agricultural infrastructure, such as cacao ovens or in the open) offer very little protection from the elements. This is likely linked to the fact that they reportedly tend to resort to less durable materials and less efficient tools to build their shelters than other population groups. They also commonly lacked basic NFIs, in particular beddings items and mosquito nets. Non-displaced living in damaged accommodations were found to face a similar situation. Reliant on their own capacity to repair damages, they commonly live in sub-standard shelters and in locations directly impacted by the conflict.
The types of issues faced by displaced communities hosted or living in rented accommodations and their hosts were found to be different, mostly linked to overcrowding and lack of financial resources to afford rent and meet basic needs. IDPs residing with host families and renting shelters reportedly experienced the worst situation in terms of overcrowding. According to 77% of KIs, displaced and host populations are sharing the same rooms and 90% indicated that displaced families renting, are usually sharing their rented accommodation with other families. Rented accommodations are generally unfurnished (according to 93% of KIs) and lack sanitation facilities. According to this assessment, some households’ sizes have grown by five times since the start of the crisis.
In terms of settings, populations living in the bush/non-village settlements were found to be the most in need of immediate assistance. IDPs displaced in these conditions reportedly live in very sub-standard, inadequate and makeshift shelters. They are vulnerable to insect- and water-borne diseases, and exposed to poor weather conditions. They also require urgently basic NFIs, such as cooking utensils and clothing.
Reflective of the crisis mostly impacting NW and SW, the shelter and NFI situation in these two regions was found to be worse than that of the Littoral and West regions. Most communities defined as living in self-settled accommodation in the bush were found to be in NW and SW, with few reported instances of self-settled communities in West and Littoral especially close to the SW and NW borders. When asked about the reasons why communities needed humanitarian assistance, insecurity was identified as one of the key drivers of needs. Findings on Littoral and West indicate issues linked to the influx of IDPs to these regions, such as an increase in rent prices and a decrease in the availability of accommodations for rent.
While cash and voucher assistance have not been considered as of this stage of the response due to the current situation, according to findings from this assessment, cash assistance was the most requested type of assistance for IDPs to improve their shelter conditions, as reported by 82% of KIs. This was especially the case for displaced renting their accommodation (97%). The assessment also reveals that some markets do remain functional and that NFIs and construction items in these local markets continue to be wellstocked. KIs reported the availability of some shelter and NFI materials in the markets, with mosquito nets being the least commonly available item. Rental accommodation is a common strategy of the displaced, and indicate that the rental market is a critical market of this shelter response. The largest constraint for the displaced population is the lack of resources to pay for construction materials, tools, NFIs, and afford rental accommodation. At this time, the government has limited cash based interventions. Nevertheless, this assessment can serve as a launching point to conduct shelter cash feasibility and response analysis. This may determine which type of modalities (cash, voucher, in-kind, market-based programing) are best placed to implement Shelter Cluster activities. Such analyses should be conducted to further advocate for appropriate and effective shelter response modalities.
Overall the assessment has shown that the shelter/NFI and WASH response to the NW/SW Cameroon crisis should very much be tailored to the population group, geography and setting in which displaced and host communities are, due to the dual dynamics of population from active conflict areas to isolated non-village settings on the one hand and to safer urban centres on the other hand. Important differences exist in the different shelter situations of the displaced depending as to whether they are displaced in urban, village, or bush settings. The most severe needs are found in bush/rural self-settled settings. Overcrowding and improper sanitation occurs in host families and rented accommodations. Furthermore, this population struggles with the expenses of affording rent and of covering the expenses related with hosting the displaced.
In addition, findings from this assessment do not indicate a stabilisation of the situation in the short term. KIs’ answers regarding the length of time that IDPs have spent in their current location highlight dynamic and ongoing displacements, also reflected by the fact that the majority of KIs (54%) reported being unsure of the intentions of the IDPs for the following three months. Insecurity and complete destruction of shelters – reported as the most common reasons for displacement – leave limited prospects for return, while current shelter arrangements point to an unsustainable situation. IDPs renting accommodation were found to be at risk of eviction, due to the common lack of formal renting arrangements and the reliance on unsustainable means to pay rent. For those being hosted, cohabitation between displaced and their hosts was reported to be causing difficulties (reported by 89% of the non-displaced hosting KIs) due to limited resources and availability of space. As such, the situation and the needs of affected populations should be regularly monitored, to enable an effective humanitarian response.