The current projections by the United Nations that over 5.5 million Nigerians could suffer from malnutrition within the coming months, has again brought to the fore the humanitarian crisis in the North-east of the country, writes Martins Ifijeh
Just as Nigerians were still grappling with the unfortunate news that about 15 to 30 persons, mostly children, were dying daily in various Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps across Borno State due to intense hunger and starvation, there seems to be a new alarm, this time, double that amount of persons could start dying every day as from next month due to worse living conditions of Nigerians displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency and the rising inflation of food products due to the economic downturn.
Specifically, a projection released few days ago by the United Nations World Food Programme, showed that 5.5 million Northern Nigerians were likely to be plunged into hunger as from September this year, a figure almost doubling the present number of persons already living in hunger in the same region, even before the country’s recession crisis started.
The UN WFP believed as families and communities have been unable to plant their crops during the heat of the Boko Haram crisis, and with the present economic situation currently experienced in the country, the consequences will be inflation and soaring food prices, which they say could have a severe impact on access to food in the region.
But while the present situation could have little or no impact on people in the region if government and stakeholders, who have identified malnutrition as a major problem, scale up intervention and food aid to the affected areas, there are still concerns, with several reports on displaced persons in the region dying from starvation daily, with children most affected.
Just two months ago, Nigerians were greeted with reports of malnutrition in large scale within IDP camps and communities which were ravaged by Boko Haram insurgency, with the state government officials being accused of diverting the otherwise lean food to their private homes, while some were said to be sold to make money at the expense of the displaced persons.
The reports showed that thousands of IDPs in over 20 camps around Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, were left hungry as officials enriched selves from the sales of diverted food meant for IDPs, with the theft not restricted to food items alone, but medical drugs, toiletries, beddings and wrappers also being diverted to the market and sold by greedy officials.
No wonder a 56-year-old, Mohammed Waliu, who stays in one of the IDP camps along with his family, raised an alarm recently while being interviewed by Cable Network News (CNN), that the greatest challenge that they have in the camp was lack of food, adding that in many instances, they eat only once a day, with the meals only given in small quantity.
It was the fallout of this mistreatment by the government, that Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF), an international, medical humanitarian organisation, reported that, “In Bama, new graves are appearing on a daily basis. We were told on certain days that more than 30 people were dying due to hunger and illness. Between 23 May to June, at least 188 people have died in the camp – almost six people per day – mainly from diarrhoea and malnutrition.’’
MSF’s conclusion, again, lays bare the many agonies of IDPs, who otherwise should have the right to life, food, shelter, among others. But unfortunately they have not enjoyed any of these in recent times. First, they have been displaced by insecurity through Boko Haram attacks, then there is the lack of proper shelter, and then, like a plague, starvation and intense hunger is finally capping their lives, making them live at the mercy of government’s decision.
In the second half of 2015, while the various IDP camps in the country recorded 6,444 malnutrition cases, 450 persons were said to have died with 98 of them being children. However, the relief materials from international charity organisations and local philanthropists have been ineffective because of the alleged corruption and diversion of donations.
Also painting a gloomy picture, the United Nations Education Trust Fund (UNICEF) says every single day, Nigeria loses about 2,300 under-five-year-olds and 145 women of childbearing age, making the country the second largest contributor to the under-five and maternal mortality rate in the world, The role of malnutrition in these deaths cannot be over emphasised.
While inflation and the economic downturn has not helped, experts believed the intervention so far made by both the state and federal governments in solving the rising food crisis in the North-east has not been commensurate with the demands of the people, as daily, IDP camps keep increasing.
The Northeast coordinator of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Muhammed Kanar, said IDP camps in the region were swelling daily with new arrivals, a situation he said was getting overwhelming, therefore leading to food insecurity. “One camp in the town of Monguno recently grew from 4,000 people to 30,000, and we expect it to grow further,” adding that, other camps were also experiencing the same scenario. “The country alone cannot tackle the problem,” he stressed.
Also, the UN’s regional humanitarian coordinator for the Sahel, Toby Lanzer, while speaking with Voice of Africa, said, “there are over 250,000 children in the North-east who are severely acutely malnourished and if no serious intervention is done immediately, we could lose up to 50,000 children before the end of the year.”
According to experts, malnutrition kills over one million people every year, with most of the casualties occurring in war-torn countries. While hunger affects all human beings, it is more devastating for children.
On the way forward, a Harvard trained Public Health Physician, Dr. Khalid Kaigama, who says he was developing a policy paper on managing humanitarian crisis of this nature, said it was good the people of the North-east and several humanitarian bodies raised the alarm over the malnutrition and wasting of the people due to intense hunger, adding that such alarm was vital in re-designing the intervention methods by the government and other bodies, adding, “no matter how terrible a government is, one thing known to all governments is that they cannot fold their hands to public pressure. Raising alarm on the thousands of deaths from the situation is one good way to get government’s attention in scaling up interventions in that area,” he added.
According to him, if government was sincere in tackling malnutrition, it should be ready not just to provide food aid to the growing number of displaced persons in the region, but must be ready to monitor how these foods were being distributed on a daily basis.
“Sometimes we hear foods estimated for about 6,000 persons were being given to over 30,000 persons in these camps. How does the government expect such food to go round. This is the major problem, yet when confronted, the government will tell you they had distributed food and other basic materials to the camps.”
He also called on the government to sanction those who through their corrupt actions have caused the deaths of several persons, especially children who have died from severe wasting and starvation. “How can people run away from insurgents and then be killed by their own government and its agents. Such agents should be fished out and dealt with because they are as wicked as the Boko Haram,” he added.
Kaigama, who acknowledged that humanitarian bodies like the UNICEF, WHO, UN, USAIDS, other international and indigenous non governmental organisations have been doing their bit through donations of foods, medicines, clothes, as well as beddings, said if the federal government and the affected states do not put task force on ground to measure the disbursement of these aid materials, it might as well discourage the various partners from further supporting these displaced persons.