DEALING WITH THE FAMINE ALERT

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The best answer is to treat the alert by UNICEF seriously

The recent alert by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) that nearly 1.4 million children were at “imminent risk” of death by famine is a cause for global concern. That Nigeria would be listed among such countries that include Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, makes it even more worrisome. According to the UN agency, people are already starving to death in the four countries listed. “Time is running out for more than a million children,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said in a recent press statement.

While UNICEF, which protects and defends the rights of every child across 190 countries and regions, has reassured that the effected countries could still save many lives, it is important for the federal government not to treat this as another political issue. ‘’We must not repeat the tragedy of the 2011 famine in the Horn of Africa”, warned UNICEF which also highlighted the fact that the severe malnutrition and the looming famine were largely man-made, and that common humanity demanded faster action.

Even before the UNICEF alert, the authorities and critical stakeholders were well aware that famine has been on-going in some parts of North-east where the Nigeria Army and other security agencies have been fighting the Boko Haram insurgency. The number of children with severe malnutrition is already in the hundreds of thousands while the internally displaced persons (IDPs) are now in millions. The situation has been compounded by the recent ethno-religious crisis in Southern Kaduna, and pockets of other theatres of violence across the country. These crises have contributed to limited agricultural activities, disrupted trade flows and worsened food insecurity.

Right now, in the most affected states of Adamawa, Borno, Yobe and Kaduna, over millions of our nationals are said to be in need of humanitarian assistance, with more than 50 per cent of them children. They need food, water, sanitation, protection, shelter and health services. While it is very encouraging to see the federal government emphasising the importance of post-conflict repossession and reconciliation, there are immediate needs to be met. This is where public-spirited individuals and humanitarian organisations within the country must come in to help.

However, the bigger responsibility lies with the federal government that should be more committed to creating a plan of action to place in order and sequence, the stabilisation and recovery interventions. The affected states should also advance comprehensive action plans based on their priorities and support some of the main concern areas that have already been identified: agriculture, social protection, health and education.

Like many groups have suggested, we believe that this is more than just an instantaneous humanitarian challenge for Nigeria. The failure to act and mobilise the full resources of the international community and others to contain the pain and suffering of internally displaced people will have huge consequences for our country. Living in denial, like the Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, recently chose to do by dismissing reports about famine, is not in any way helpful.

What we expect the authorities to do is to admit there is a serious humanitarian crisis. And with that, it is easy to mobilise Nigerians and the international community in the efforts to address the challenge. No matter the spin officials put on the issue, emerging facts suggest that there is food shortage in many parts of the country that has led to desperation. Unless something is done urgently, many of our people may die of famine. This is therefore the time to act to avert the looming catastrophe.