There is need for an urgent intervention
Despite abundant natural resources and vast arable land, Nigeria has failed to make investments necessary to provide sustainable and healthy diets for citizens. But the challenge in the Northeast has been compounded by the insurgency that has claimed the lives of thousands of innocent people and displaced millions of others. Following the Launch of the Lean Season Food Security and Nutrition Crisis Multi-sector Plan 2023 last Thursday, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) said that “to prevent a widespread hunger and malnutrition crisis in Northeast Nigeria from turning fully catastrophic US$396 million is urgently needed to scale up humanitarian action in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe (BAY) States.”
This is an emergency that should concern all critical stakeholders in the country at a time the focus is on transition. More than half a million people, according to the UN body, may face emergency levels of food insecurity, with extremely high rates of acute malnutrition and cases of mortality if there is no rapid and significant scale up of humanitarian assistance. “This is the most immediate and life-threatening form of malnutrition. Some 700,000 children are at risk of severe acute malnutrition – meaning that they are 11 times more likely to die compared to well-nourished children. They need immediate action to survive.”
Stunted growth implies a marked increase in the child’s susceptibility to infections and contributes to child mortality. Invariably, pregnant women who are not adequately nourished eventually give birth to babies with low weight, thus putting their survival at risk. Yet, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), stunting figures above 40 and wasting above 10 are critical and should be considered an emergency. That sadly is the situation today in the Northeast. Unless authorities in Abuja and the 36 states take immediate steps to address hunger and malnutrition, especially in children and pregnant women, the poor indices on maternal and child mortality, will further worsen.
Indeed, the situation is already dire. “I have seen firsthand the anguish of mothers fighting for the lives of their malnourished infants in our partner-run stabilisation centres. This is a situation no one should have to face,” the Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria, Matthias Schmale said. “I have spoken with children who described going for days without eating enough. Mothers who said their children go to bed crying from hunger. Families struggling to feed their families as they have gone for months without receiving food assistance.” Schmale lamented that this may become the unfortunate reality for millions of food-insecure people in the three states unless resources and funding are urgently mobilised.
Authorities in Nigeria need to sit up by addressing the crushing indices and causes of malnutrition that have continued to deprive over half of our children (and mothers) of a healthy and productive life span. Since better nutrition is the foundation to advance health and well-being, educational attainment, prosperity, and equity, we need urgent intervention in the Northeast. The Country Representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Nigeria, Cristian Munduate, has called for concerted efforts to protect children and help in averting human catastrophy. The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) representative to Nigeria, Fred Kafeero, has also warned that with the lean season coinciding with the rainy season, humanitarian partners are also concerned about outbreaks of diseases, such as acute diarrhoea, cholera, and malaria, which will only aggravate the situation of malnourished children.
Children suffering from malnutrition are at higher risk of dying from common infections hence the concern by these multilateral institutions and development partners. That the federal government and authorities in the affected three states are missing in this conversation is troubling.