By Michael Olugbode
The United Nations has called for the decongestion of internally displaced persons’ (IDPs) camps in the North-east to ward off cases of fire incident and outbreak of Covid-19.
A statement by the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) on Sunday lamented that about 15 fire outbreaks had been recorded in IDP camps since the beginning of the year affecting more than 15,000 people in Borno State.
The statement said the Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Mr Edward Kallon, has expressed deep sorrow over multiple fire outbreaks that devastated the Monguno Waterboard camp for IDPs in northern Borno State on 14, 15 and 18 April and the International Secondary School camp on 16 April in Gamboru, Ngala Local Government Area, Borno State, near the border to Cameroon.
Kallon said: “My heartfelt sympathy goes to the many vulnerable families who are affected. These are the worst fire incidents recorded in camps for internally displaced persons in the North-east so far this year.”
He lamented that at least 14 people lost their lives in the fire incident in Ngala on April 16, with 15 others injured while seven are still treated in a clinic run by aid organisations.
He also said that over 300 shelters were damaged, and a communal shelter hosting 11 families were burnt down with more than 8,000 people already displaced by the ongoing Boko Haram crisis once again losing their belongings and shelters.
He noted that aid workers are now working around the clock to mobilise support such as food, shelter and essential items like mattresses, pots, soap and clothes.
He said on April 18, another fire broke out in the Waterboard camp in Monguno Local Government Area, which is the third such incident recorded in the camp in a week, revealing that the initial assessment indicated that 100 shelters were entirely burnt down.
Kallon said: “These tragedies come unfortunately among a series of recurring incidents during the dry season, despite regular awareness-raising efforts made by the humanitarian community in IDP camps.”
According to him, around 15 fire outbreaks have been recorded in IDP camps since the beginning of the year affecting more than 15,000 people, stressing that as recently as April 14, communities in both Mafa and Monguno Local Government Areas of Borno State were shocked by massive fires that destroyed at least 200 and 100 shelters, respectively.
He said in Mafa, an elderly person who was sleeping in one of the shelters, was burned alive.
Kallon said the risk of fire outbreaks, as well as the spread of coronavirus in IDPs camps in Borno State is extremely high due to overcrowding with makeshift and temporary shelters built too closely together.
He said: “I am concerned that we will keep witnessing these recurrent tragedies unless we take urgent measures to jointly address the root cause of the problem.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic slowly spreading across the country, I am extremely worried about the 1.8 million IDPs in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States and the rest of the nearly eight million vulnerable people in these conflict-affected states. Camp decongestion has been a challenge, but it is now a priority. I call on all stakeholders to urgently contribute to efforts being made to decongest camps in respect of people’s rights and dignity.”
He revealed that together with the state and federal authorities, UN and INGOs are working on an expansion of the IDP camps to mitigate the risk of fire incidents and the rapid spread of diseases like the COVID-19 virus.
He said: “One in two camps in Borno State are currently overcrowded with nearly 700,000 vulnerable IDPs living in such conditions.
“I have to commend the engagement of Borno State authorities and the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs on this issue.
“It is our duty to do our utmost to protect the most vulnerable from another tragedy, whether it is a fire or the COVID-19 virus.”