Migration, displacement and water-related challenges in Adamawa State, Nigeria

Findings from a survey of 400 households in 20 communities show the strain on water and other resources.

By Buermle Puplampu, Andrew Okem and Charity Osei-Amponsah

Girl fetching water from a dug out, Dumnazerbu, Adamawa State, Nigeria. Joe Bala / IWMI
Girl fetching water from a dug out, Dumnazerbu, Adamawa State, Nigeria. Joe Bala / IWMI

Geographically, Adamawa State is in the northeastern part of Nigeria. With 21 local governments, Adamawa has seen intrastate, interstate and international migration. Notable among the international migrations is the influx of refugees from the southwestern part of Cameroon with 16,500 persons reported between August 2022 and January 2023. The influx of people to destinations with scarce resources puts a strain on existing limited resources, leading to competition and conflicts. The conflicts further result in migration and displacement.

The International Water Management Institute in partnership with the World Food Programme is implementing a project titled Vulnerabilities to Changes in the Water Systems of Conflict-Affected Communities in Adamawa State, Nigeria. Findings from a survey of 400 households in 20 communities located in 10 local governments in Adamawa State reveal that migration and displacement in Adamawa can be attributed to the loss of farmland due to conflicts and climate change. Conflict in the region is most often communal conflict, farmer-herder conflicts and activities of non-state armed groups. Conflict and climate change have affected several households, with 54.3% of respondents’ households having alternative sources of income due to the conflict.

The increased migration to communities in Adamawa State has affected the households of both migrants and hosts. The result is a strain on available water resources and infrastructure, impacts on livelihoods, insecurity and poverty, as well as limited trust among community members.  A representative of internally displaced persons in one of the communities indicated that, “When there is no water available, people waste most of their time searching for water instead of doing something productive.”   This has negatively affected 83.5% of migrants in the study communities to the extent that some are contemplating returning and settling in the communities they migrated from as they have nowhere else to go. Meanwhile, others are unsure about their next move amid their vulnerabilities.

Water-related issues

The project’s findings reveal that the primary sources of water in Adamawa State include boreholes, dug or distilled well water, rivers, streams, ponds, rainwater and piped water. Although these sources are moderately accessible and reliable for about two in every five surveyed households (41.5%), there are concerns regarding its quality. According to a leader in one of the host communities, “We do get water but not so much available, especially during extreme dry season… It is only 20% of the population that have access to water, and it is not even safe for drinking”. Poor water quality is attributed to various factors, including contamination from industrial sources, pesticide residues and agricultural runoff, ageing infrastructure and pipe corrosion, insufficient water treatment and filtration processes, as well as lack of watershed management. Often, people and animals are forced to share the same water resources, a fact that many attribute to the poor quality of water in Adamawa State.  All of these issues lead to poor sanitation and the spread of waterborne diseases among men, women, youth, children and infants. Some of these diseases include malaria, typhoid, cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hypertension, kidney disease, diabetes, hepatitis, gastroenteritis, worm infections and skin rashes/infections.

Girls returning home with fetched water, Malkohi, Adamawa State, Nigeria. Joe Bala / IWMI
Girls returning home with fetched water, Malkohi, Adamawa State, Nigeria. Joe Bala / IWMI

Coping mechanisms

Communities have deployed various mechanisms to cope with poor water quality and the resulting challenges. These include Increasing reliance on water truck deliveries, rainwater harvesting, and seeking and receiving assistance from the government, non-governmental organizations, community-based organizations, religious institutions and international aid organizations. Help from these stakeholders in the form of food assistance programs or subsidies, employer-based assistance programs, and school-based assistance programs mean that vulnerable communities are provided with support.

There are also more tactile actions in place to improve water quality. Boiling, sieving using a clean cloth, purification with the application of alum and moringa powder, community contributions for borehole repairs and proper maintenance of good water sources contribute to good water quality used by community members. Similarly, governance structures—traditional and elected leaders—are given prominence by communities to resolve conflict and traditional disputes, deal with legal issues and make top-down and collective decisions about water-related issues.

Policy implications and recommendations

Addressing water-related challenges in the context of migration and displacement requires different approaches at all levels. One approach is anticipatory action, (a proactive approach taken to address potential problems before they happen), the focus of this project. Anticipatory action is designed and implemented to reduce water system-related risks and disasters for Fragile and Conflict-Affected Communities (FCACs).

Other approaches include investment in water infrastructure, enhancing livelihoods, supporting resilience, conflict resolution, peacebuilding and effective and proper governance structures. Firstly, investing in water resources by replacing ageing infrastructure and corroding pipes will result in access to quality water for agriculture and domestic use, thereby enhancing livelihoods. Secondly, supporting resilience can be done by helping communities recover from the impacts of climate change and conflict through the provision of access to clean water and effectively managing water resources. Thirdly, conflict resolution and peacebuilding would bring all stakeholders in FCACs together to work towards common goals in relation to water management and water-related risks. Lastly, the existence of effective and proper formal and informal governance structures ensures accountability, the participation of whole communities in the decision-making process, with transparency helping to build trust among members of communities, the government and citizens.

Exploring and understanding water-related risks in the context of migration and displacement is key in addressing the challenges of water systems faced by host and migrant communities in Adamawa State. It is therefore important that the relationship is acknowledged and interventions for addressing the vulnerabilities be designed and implemented to ensure water security, the protection of public health and the development of the state.


This work was supported by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) under the project titled, “Learning Support for a Sub-Saharan Africa Multi-Country Climate Resilience Program for Food Security” under the CGIAR Initiative on Fragility, Conflict and Migration, and by the donors who fund the CGIAR Research Initiative on Fragility, Conflict and Migration (FCM), through their contributions to the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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