• UN: Scarcity of funds threatens humanitarian assistance

Alexander Enumah
in Abuja with agency report
Thousands of children have died of starvation and diseases in Boko Haram-ravaged North-eastern Nigeria, Doctors Without Borders said yesterday, quoting a new survey that is forcing Nigerian government officials to stop denying the crisis.

The Paris-based organisation hopes that official recognition of the calamity in which “thousands are dying every day” will help bring urgent aid before older children also start dying, Natalie Roberts, emergency programme manager for North-east Nigeria, told The Associated Press (AP).

A survey of two refugee camps in the North-eastern city of Maiduguri shows a quarter of the expected population of under-five children is missing or assumed dead, according to the organisation.
North-eastern Nigeria’s under-five mortality rates are more than double the threshold for declaring an emergency, Roberts said in a phone interview from Paris.

Speaking on her return from North-eastern Borno State, the birthplace of Boko Haram’s Islamic uprising, she said the absence of young children was striking.

“We only saw older brothers and sisters. No toddlers are straddling their big sisters’ hips. No babies strapped to their mums’ backs. It’s as if they have just vanished,” Roberts said.

Doctors Without Borders first sounded the alarm in June but Nigerian camp officials as late as September denied any child was suffering malnutrition. That was even after The Associated Press published images of matchstick-thin children fighting for their lives at Doctors Without Borders intensive feeding centre in Maiduguri.

“The difference now is that our figures have been checked by the statistician general, and we have official recognition from the government that they believe this is happening,” Roberts said.
An estimated 75,000 children could die within a year because donors have provided only one-third of requested funding and twice as much, $1 billion is needed for the rest of the year and into 2017, says the United Nations.

A vital funding conference in Geneva next month could save the day, otherwise “it won’t be long before we could be in the painful position of having to turn away sick and starving children,” says the U.S.-based Save the Children.

Some 2.6 million people including more than 1 million children have been driven from their homes by Nigeria’s seven-year-old insurgency that has killed more than 20,000 people, left food-producing fields fallow, disrupted trade routes and destroyed wells, bridges and entire towns.

The crisis is aggravated by the alleged theft of food aid being investigated by Nigeria’s Senate.
President Muhammadu Buhari last month set up a presidential committee to coordinate aid and the rebuilding of the North-east, even as an end to the rainy season has brought a predictable upsurge in attacks on military outposts and urban suicide bombings by the Islamic extremists.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) has warned that the dwindling in-flow of funds from donor partners may hamper humanitarian intervention in the North-east region, a situation that can lead to the death of millions of people in the area, particularly children.
The world body while noting that the region was on the verge of a humanitarian crisis of global proportion lamented that the funds so far received in 2016 are a far cry from budgeted expenditure.

UNOCHA coordinator for Nigeria, Peter Lundberg, who disclosed this to newsmen in Abuja yesterday, said if nothing urgently was done to help the government mitigate the situation, millions of people in the area may lose their lives within the next few months.

The envoy, who blamed the shortfall on what he described as a multitude of the complexities facing the world said of the $485 million budgeted for this year, only $180 million had so far been received, thereby creating a huge gap in tackling the situation.

He called on all Nigerians particularly the rich to contribute something no matter how small, in order to prevent the imminent disaster and also ameliorate the plight of the suffering masses in the region.
“We need to reach out to the private sector, Nigeria is a rich country and there are a lot of rich people that have the capacity to give and are also willing to do so,” he said, adding that the problem could only be solved if everyone joined hands to combat the crisis in the region.

While stating that over 26 million people were likely to be affected in the event of a crisis, Lundberg disclosed that 14 million people had been identified to be in urgent need of assistance, adding that of the 400,000 children said to be suffering from severe famine and malnutrition, 75,000 of them were likely to die in a few months if there is no urgent intervention.

According to him, most of these children are already experiencing changes in the colour of their hair and skin and might likely die due to weakened immune systems.

He disclosed that his agency, other than intervening in the area of food and health, was also assisting with water and sanitation, shelter, education and empowerment, among other needs, adding that as part of measures to effectively reach the people, UNOCHA has concluded plans to establish a humanitarian hub that would bring staff of the agency and other partners closer to the people.

On the alleged rape of women and girls in the IDP camps, Lundberg, while acknowledging that it is a common occurrence in situations like this, said there is need to sensitise communities on their rights and responsibilities.

He also suggested a system of creating spaces to avoid unhealthy contact, as well as the provision of electricity in most camps to prevent certain criminal acts that darkness encourages.