From terror to starvation in Nigeria

Nigeria | Food aid isn’t reaching people displaced by Boko Haram
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 7/01/16, 11:44 am

A recently released report by Doctors Without Borders has moved some Nigerian officials to start responding to the growing humanitarian crisis at a camp for internally displaced people in northeastern Borno state. The health crisis has occurred despite the millions of dollars the government says it spends on food aid at the camp.

The northeastern town of Bama is home to some 24,000 Nigerians who left their homes to flee Boko Haram’s terror. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said it counted more than 1,000 graves, 480 of which were for children, all dug in the past year. They discovered 16 severely malnourished children at immediate risk of death, and a screening of more than 800 children revealed 19 percent suffered from severe acute malnutrition.

“This is the first time MSF has been able to access Bama, but we already know the needs of the people there are beyond critical,” said Ghada Hatim, MSF’s head of mission in Nigeria. “We were told on certain days more than 30 people were dying due to hunger and illness.”

Borno state Gov. Kashim Shettima visited the Bama camp a few weeks before the medical team and reported similar observations. He ordered the relocation of some children with severe cases to special care units. The Borno state government has said it spends some $2 million on feeding the displaced persons monthly, but many still remain malnourished. Rotimi Olawale, a youth development and policy consultant, said corrupt officials have taken advantage of the situation to amass wealth.

“The corruption among government officials in camps is alarming and cruel because diverting food items from [internally displaced persons] is not only wicked, but unheard of,” Olawale said. “If this is utilized as delivered, why should the IDPs be malnourished and die of hunger?”

Martin Ewi, an expert with the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, recalled an “embarrassing” moment at the Bama camp where a police officer and military personnel exchanged fire over a bag of rice meant for camp residents.

“Many are starving and dying not because of Boko Haram again but because of hunger,” Ewi said.

The report has drawn national attention and some response from government officials. The chief of staff to the president, Abba Kyari, on Wednesday had a private meeting with Borno state’s governor. Nigeria’s Health Minister Isaac Adewole has declared a nutrition emergency in the state. Adewole said a rapid response team would merge with the state’s team to attend to the people.

But the government needs to consider viable long-term solutions, Olawale said. He called on the government to work on reintegrating programs for the displaced people under legal provisions, with the aid of international bodies willing to offer assistance.

“Nigeria risks another security challenge if the IDPs are kept in camp for too long without reintegration back to the society,” Rotimi said.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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