The Boko Haram insurgency has led to a food crisis the extent of which is only now being uncovered
After his father, a welder from Bama, died in a camp for internally displaced people in Nigeria’s northeastern city of Maiduguri, 17-year-old Dauda began to cater for the two wives and eight other children who had survived him. Aided by the little money donated by one of the locals bringing food to the Dalori camp, home to 18,000 people rendered homeless by the Boko Haram insurgency, he now sells caps to provide two square meals a day for his family.
Not everyone has been that lucky.
The situation in the region, where the insurgency has claimed more than 20,000 lives since 2009, was grave enough for Médecins Sans Frontières to warn last week that malnourished children were dying in large numbers.
The following day, an insurgent attack led to the suspension of the delivery of vital supplies, compounding the crisis.
Thierry Laurent-Badin, programme director for Action Contre la Faim in Nigeria, estimates that about 244,000 children are currently suffering from severe acute malnutrition in areas that used to be a complete no-go due to security restrictions, a figure also announced recently by UNICEF.
“We just got access to areas previously under Boko Haram control and completely inaccessible for the last few years; areas like Monguno, Baga, Kukawa, Gamboru-Ngala, Dikwa, Bama, Gwoza and more,” Laurent-Badin told IRIN.
One of the biggest problems in the region is malnutrition and children are particularly vulnerable. For the malnourished, susceptibility to – and death from – other diseases like diarrhoea, and malaria, which is prevalent in the region, is nine times higher. A further two million people remain inaccessible and have no humanitarian assistance whatsoever.
MSF reported that 15 percent children screened by their teams in the region suffered from severe acute malnutrition, which puts their lives at risk. In one town, nearly one child in three is malnourished.
Farms and food stores have been destroyed in the wake of the insurgency and farming is yet to resume in areas cut off by instability, even more so as the fields remain barren. For most families, their breadwinners and farm hands are either missing or have been killed in the crisis.
Continued security threat
At one time, Boko Haram had annexed a swathe of land the size of Belgium from the territory of Nigeria and renamed it Islamic State West Africa Province. While joint military operations with Chad, Niger, and Cameroon have led to the reclamation of most of the area and the Nigerian government has repeatedly insisted that it has “technically defeated” the extremists, pockets of violence remain in small towns and villages in the region.
Last week, insurgents ambushed a UN convoy returning from Bama, north of Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, injuring two aid workers. It was the first attack of its kind in the region and prompted all UN agencies to halt missions to areas outside the city.
“We are reviewing the security situation, and, for now, because of our central security system, all UN agencies have suspended trips outside Maiduguri temporarily,” Doune Porter, chief of communications at UNICEF Nigeria, told IRIN. “The attack has serious consequences for us, however our partners remain in Bama and are still delivering assistance.”
The attack had far-reaching consequences on the distribution of food and other supplies to hundreds of thousands of civilians living outside Maiduguri who have been uprooted by the seven years of violence. Even before the recent travel suspension, only the UN had the capacity to travel to high-risk areas. Some other international aid agencies refused to use armed escorts due to neutrality concerns.
In a statement released after the attacks, UNICEF urged donors and other humanitarian organisations “to scale up the response to the emerging disaster in Borno state”, and pledged to continue to work at full strength in Maiduguri.
The Nigerian government, which announced a nutritional emergency in Borno State in June, has sent representatives of the National Emergency Management Agency to assess the situation.
But there have long been allegations of rampant misappropriation of resources by government stakeholders. The tentacles of corruption, a major issue in Nigeria, seem to have spread to the humanitarian sector as well. In May, fights broke out between soldiers and policemen in Maiduguri over trucks of rice and other foodstuffs donated by Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, when he personally visited the Bakassi and Dalori camps in the city.
A month later, a video showing officials of the Borno State Emergency Management Agency repackaging food items allocated to the IDP camps by NEMA and diverting them for resale went viral on social media.
“A lot of sharing and sorting is done, so not everything gets to the IDPs at the end of the day,” an aid worker told IRIN on condition of anonymity. “Right now in Bakassi camp, IDPs say they are given raw food rations weekly, and left to figure out how they get it cooked, I suppose. The arrangement used to be that NEMA provides staples then SEMA provides firewood and condiments, but SEMA hasn’t been living up to their end. A lot of money has gone down the drain. You need to hear [the] ridiculous amounts they claim to use to get stuff like firewood.”
“It is not reasonable to expect that the government of Nigeria will be able manage it single-handedly, without major support,” said Laurent-Badin, who has called for more funding for the northeast region. “The needs are overwhelming.”
“The 2016 Humanitarian Response Plan for the crisis in northeast Nigeria is only 28 percent funded as of June 2016: the world must deliver on its promises to leave no one behind in this crisis,” he said.
“We urge donors to allow humanitarian actors to re-channel existing funding to these newly accessible areas and to expedite the release of new funding to meet the large-scale humanitarian needs.”
By Eromo Egbejule, this report was first published on the Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) website.