Nigeria: Neglected Hunger Crisis Surges behind Front Lines of Fighting
Humanitarian community races to assess needs in areas cut off from aid for about two years
The international humanitarian organization Action Against Hunger is calling for full, immediate access to parts of Borno State in northeast Nigeria, where intense conflict has left people totally cut off from humanitarian assistance. After last week’s declaration by the Nigerian government of a food and nutrition emergency in Borno State—and due to recent success in reclaiming areas previously under control of the militant group Boko Haram—humanitarian actors are getting limited access for the first time in almost two years to “no go zones” that have been previously engulfed in violence. As these areas become accessible, the United Nations and aid agencies are calling for protection and full support to conduct rapid needs assessments and reach families who have been left without shelter, food, water, or emergency health and nutrition assistance.
Conflict, high food prices, inflation, and major disruptions to livelihoods and farming due to fighting have altogether left northeast Nigeria crippled by food insecurity.
“We are extremely concerned about the dire needs of an estimated three million people in parts of northeast Nigeria whom we have not been able to reach until very recently because of the volatile context and the intensity of the fighting,” said Action Against Hunger Country Director for Nigeria, Yannick Pouchalan. “We are just starting to get a sense of how bad the situation is in parts of the northeast because, until recently, we have not been able to get into these conflict areas. But we do know that we must respond now, and prepare for a large-scale emergency, because access is opening. History has taught us that ignoring the blatant warning signs and the alarming evidence at hand—even if limited—will lead to nothing but tragedy.”
Evidence from the March 2016 Cadre Harmonisé Integrated Food Security Phase Classification and United Nations agencies rapid needs assessments indicates that an estimated 617,000 children in northeast Nigeria are currently suffering from acute malnutrition. An estimated 250,000 children in Borno alone are acutely malnourished, according to recent UNICEF reports. Those numbers in and of themselves signal an appalling level of human suffering, but more information is required to determine the scale of the crisis and ensure efficient coordination of humanitarian actors.
“Behind the front lines of the conflict, where— until the past several weeks —severe access constraints have made it extremely challenging for us to deliver help, we believe people’s needs are quite alarming and extreme,” said Pouchalan. “We urge all parties to uphold international humanitarian law at this critical juncture to enable the safe, rapid delivery of assistance.” Humanitarian actors require immediate, unimpeded access to affected populations to conduct assessments, effectively scale up major emergency operations, and prevent huge numbers of child deaths from hunger."
Despite the government’s declaration of a nutrition emergency in Borno State, the crisis in Nigeria remains desperately underfunded. Of the $279 million requested to deliver the Humanitarian Response Plan for Nigeria, only $78.5 million (28 percent) has actually been funded. Action Against Hunger joins the United Nations and its humanitarian partners in Nigeria in urging the international community to mobilize an expedited process to immediately release available, flexible funding to avert catastrophe.
Action Against Hunger is reaching more than 2.1 million people affected by the crisis in the northeast through current programs in Yobe, Jigawa, and Borno. We are deploying a specialized rapid response team to launch new emergency programs in previously inaccessible areas of Borno State in coordination with local authorities and international humanitarian partners. Our immediate priorities are to rapidly assess and meet the urgent survival needs of displaced populations who have not had access to humanitarian assistance.
We are also expanding existing programs to reach more people in need in Yobe State, and in camps and communities around Maiduguri in Borno State. In these areas, we are scaling up our emergency health and nutrition programs in health facilities and through mobile health units — delivering lifesaving therapeutic food and treatment to vulnerable children under the age of five. We are also working to deliver essential relief supplies, clean water, and adequate sanitation to promote hygiene and prevent deadly waterborne diseases, particularly around Maiduguri, which hosts an estimated 1.4 million displaced people, many of whom have not received humanitarian assistance.
Action Against Hunger has been working in Nigeria since 2010. From 2014 to 2015, we doubled the volume of our operations in response to the crisis, meeting the humanitarian needs of 2.1 million people with health and nutrition programs; clean water and sanitation to reduce malnutrition and disease; emergency cash transfers to help displaced people purchase food or meet other urgent needs; and longer-term food security initiatives. In 2016, we have scaled up our programs in Nigeria even further, yet again doubling the volume of our operations to meet rising needs, despite an extremely challenging environment.