Shortly before World Humanitarian Day on 19 August, we learned that a humanitarian catastrophe was underway in Northeast Nigeria. As previously inaccessible areas opened up, emergency levels of acute malnutrition and famine-like conditions in the area were uncovered. A week later, a “nutrition emergency” was declared in Borno State. But when a UN convoy was attacked in the state just two weeks later, the UN was forced to temporarily suspend humanitarian operations to high risk areas, despite the critical need.
In early August, two new cases of polio were reported in Borno state, marking a major setback to public health in the country. It had been two years since the last confirmed case of polio was reported in Nigeria, and the country was just a year away from being certified polio-free.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has said it is increasingly alarmed at the unfolding situation in the northeast. UNHCR said some 800,000 additional internally displaced people had been identified as needing help.
Relief efforts have continued, but food assistance and other needs continue to grow. The World Food Programme (WFP) requires $52 million to continue to provide lifesaving assistance until the end of the year in northeast Nigeria, and UNICEF is only 10% funded in the country. To date, only 36% ($100 million) of the UN humanitarian response plan has been covered for Nigeria.
WFP estimates that the number of people in need of food assistance in northeast Nigeria alone has risen to 4.5 million, nearly twice the number as in March of this year. Despite improvement in the security situation in the area 1.6 million people have been forced from their homes, their farms, and their livelihoods in Borno State alone, and more than 50% of the displaced are children.
UNICEF have called this a children’s crisis. Children have been deliberately and brutally targeted. Girls have been raped, forced to “marry” fighters and beaten, boys have been pushed into fighting, and both have been used as so-called “suicide” bombers. At the same time, children have been adversely impacted by the lack of food and clean water. There are now 244,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition in Borno state alone. Some 49,000 of whom could die in 2016. It’s a race against time to reach all of these children with the simple therapeutic food they need to save their lives, not to mention the immediate need for mental health services for children and all Internally Displaced People (IDP) to recover.
Continued sporadic violence keeps people from taking on the kinds of work that would help restore their income and help feed and educate themselves. Even before northeast Nigeria is completely stabilized, there needs to be a plan in place to help vulnerable populations access education, employment and basic health services. A return to normality is critical so that families and children can recover from the horrors they’ve lived through and resume their lives and childhoods.
In the short term, UN agencies, and local governments are working together to ensure that food security interventions are implemented across all states in the region, with a particular focus on IDPs and host communities. The World Health Organization has deployed an emergency health team to assess and respond to the urgent health needs of the local population. MSF, ICRC and countless other international civil society organizations have contributed to relief and recovery efforts as well.
Regarding polio, the Nigerian Government launched a quick response, releasing N9.8 billion in funding within a week and pledging six rounds of vaccinations in the most affected areas over the coming months. The government has also asked the World Bank for an additional $125 million loan for vaccines to fight the epidemic and other communicable diseases. The first round of vaccinations – which targeted 1 million children – will soon be completed and subsequent large-scale rounds of polio immunization are planned, with the goal of immunizing over 56 million children by the end of November.
Since January of this year, the Dangote Foundation has partnered with the governors of Kaduna, Sokoto, Yobe, and Borno states, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID to strengthen and sustain routine immunization programs. Recently, more donations from Dangote and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations have seen direct interventions with the Borno State Government focused on IDPs and some resettled communities. They have provided much needed food and essential supplies for immediate relief and in addition they are looking at long term solutions and have given land, fertilisers and improved seeds so that returning communities can farm and support themselves. De-mining efforts are also hugely important in order to make farmland safe for IDPs to cultivate.
In the long-term, donors and the Nigerian government will have to rebuild the infrastructural, educational, agricultural and health capacity of the region so people can gain a sustainable income and feed themselves. It is estimated that US$9.2 billion will need to be invested in peace building, infrastructure, social services, and economic recovery to rebuild northeast Nigeria.
The government and international community must urgently partner to rehabilitate and expand irrigation infrastructure, earth dams, wells, buildings and other agricultural needs that are critical to the resilience of the region. All these efforts need careful planning and transparent budgets, monitoring and evaluation, especially by citizens receiving the services so they can “follow the money” and help ensure funds get where they are most needed.
With time, continued security, close coordination at all levels of government, open government process, and engagement by civilian, development, environment and health organisations, there is hope for northeast Nigeria to overcome current challenges and once again drive the region forward.
Please add your voice to the thousands of Nigerians who are demanding action to save millions of lives and create a more healthy, prosperous, secure and corruption-free nation. Together we can Make Naija Stronger.