Famine looms in Nigeria after 7 years of terror

An estimated 4.4 million people are relying on emergency food and security, and 65,000 people are living in famine-like conditions, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation  

Sam Olukoya and Kristin Palitza –
Mothers wait patiently on rows of wooden benches, babies and children wide-eyed on their laps. Their stomachs are swollen, their skin wrinkled and their hair brittle. Many of them are too weak to cry.
The mothers are queueing inside a makeshift clinic at Muna Garage, a camp for people who have been displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state in north-eastern Nigeria.
Mariam Abdullahi hands her two-year-old daughter Hajara to a health worker, who puts a measuring band around the girl’s arm. It shows the colour red. Hajara is severely malnourished.
The little girl is one of 400,000 children in the region suffering from severe malnutrition, according to the United Nations. One in five children in the area are likely to die if aid doesn’t reach them quickly, the agency says. Nigeria “is facing the worst humanitarian crisis on the African continent,” according to UN deputy humanitarian coordinator Peter Lundberg.
An estimated 4.4 million people are relying on emergency food and security, and 65,000 people are living in famine-like conditions, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
The crisis is particularly severe in Maiduguri, where the population has almost doubled in size thanks to the more than a million people who have sought refuge there from Boko Haram.
The hot and dusty city has nine camps filled with tents to house the displaced, including Muna Garage. The remaining refugees are being housed by residents —people who already struggle to make ends meet.
Maiduguri already suffered from poor infrastructure and living conditions before the influx of the displaced. Now, the city is bursting at the seams, and public services are about to collapse.
“The additional population has put a lot of pressure on basic services like medical facilities, water systems and schools,” says Abdulkadir Musse, the chief emergency coordinator of UN children’s fund UNICEF.
To make matters worse, the ongoing threat of terrorism is hampering efforts to bring aid to Maiduguri and other troubled areas in the north-east.
Villages throughout the region have been destroyed, livestock stolen, fields and crops looted and torched. Farmers have missed several planting seasons due to the unrest.
“We can only farm where it’s safe. Even then, we still hear their gunshots as they approach on motorbikes or in vehicles,” says Mustapha Abbas, who owns farmland outside Maiduguri. “When they get to our farms, they either steal our crops or burn them. Two days ago, they came near my farm and killed some farmers,” Abbas said.
Shelves in shops and markets have few products to offer, and prices for food and drinking water have increased dramatically.
Even clean water for cooking and washing is hard to come by. The Muna Garage camp, for example, has only 15 water taps for 16,000 people. The displaced queue for hours to fill up their buckets. Sometimes scuffles break out.
Out of desperation, many residents have started using the unclean water of the Alo River, which flows through the city. Others have been seen drinking out of muddy puddles. Another major problem is waste disposal, with refuse being dumped illegally, clogging the streets and blocking drains.
The lack of sanitation and hygiene has turned the camp into “an incubator, spreading disease,” warns Helle Poulsen-Dobbyns, programme coordinator of medical non-profit organisation Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reports that many health facilities in the region have shut down due to the volatile security situation and the resulting lack of doctors, nurses, medicine and equipment.
Maiduguri’s three public hospitals are overcrowded, with many patients having to lie on the floor and some waiting dozens of hours to receive treatment. — dpa