The northern part of Cameroon is located in the Sahelian and Sudanese-Sahelian agro-ecological zones and suffers from poor soil quality, limited rainfall and low crop production. The North and Far North regions are characterized by high rates of food insecurity, malnutrition and poverty and have limited access to healthcare, education and clean water. Four successive years of natural disasters—droughts in 2009, 2011 and 2012 and floods in 2010 and 2012—resulted in a high rate of crop failure and left the population with small or non-existent stocks for the lean season. These conditions have further widened the gap between food production and national needs.
Cameroon, like other countries in the region, suffered considerably during the Sahel drought crisis in 2012. The conditions put significant pressure on northern populations, and 400,000 people required immediate food assistance. Several months later, heavy rains during the rainy season caused severe flooding, affecting over 60,000 people in the north and far-north regions. The floods damaged households and plantations, forcing many families to abandon their homes.
Fragile political and security conditions in neighboring countries have also significantly affected Cameroon during the past several decades. Since 2005, refugees have flooded into the country from both Central African Republic and Chad; 87,000 refugees now reside in the East and Adamaoua regions and in the Langui Camp in the north. The escalating conflict in Central African Republic and insecurities in Nigeria have increased the number of refugees seeking shelter in Cameroon during 2013. Many households in the northern regions are still recovering from the recent droughts and floods, and the influx of refugees has put additional pressure on communities already struggling with food insecurity.
Results of the preliminary Standardized Monitoring and Assessment in Relief and Transitions (SMART) survey, undertaken by UNICEF and WFP in November 2012, demonstrate that acute malnutrition continues to be prevalent in the North and Far North regions of the country, with a global acute malnutrition (GAM) rate of 5.5 percent in the North and 6.3 percent in the Far-North. The chronic malnutrition rates are classified as 'critical' in the North region at 43.3 percent, and in the Far North region at 44.8 percent. The net rate of school attendance for girls in Cameroon is of 77.6 percent and 88.6 percent for boys. Fifteen percent of adults in rural areas in the northern regions have completed their primary school education, and only five percent of women have had access to basic education.
Cameroon ranks 150 out of 186 on the 2012 UNDP Human Development Index. With a gross domestic product (GDP) of US$2,002 per capita, more than 40 percent of the country’s 20 million people live below the poverty line, and 70 percent depend on agro-pastoral activities.