2 December 2016: As humanitarian donors prepare to gather in Geneva, award-winning British-Nigerian actor David Oyelowo has joined Nigerian luminaries and international charities in writing an open letter warning global leaders of the tens of thousands of children who could starve in North East Nigeria unless the world acts immediately.
Selma star Oyelowo joins compatriot Aliko Dangote, one of Africa’s leading businessmen, U2’s Bono and Save the Children in demanding decisive action to address the crisis when the donors meet to agree world-wide humanitarian emergency funding in Geneva next week.
Oyelowo, who was raised in Lagos and London, co-writes in the letter: “The tragedy now unfolding in North East Nigeria is one of the world’s deadliest but least reported emergencies.
“Over 4.7 million people are in need of food assistance and some 400,000 children are at imminent risk of starvation. It must be addressed when humanitarian emergency donors gather this week in Geneva.”
An appeal by Nigeria as part of the UN’s global Humanitarian Response Plan is announced today in Abuja, as Save the Children’s new report on North East Nigeria ‘Children’s Lives and Futures at Risk’ warns of a threat of full-scale famine.
The Famine Early Warning Systems Network estimates that more than 65,000 people are in famine 1. This marks a tipping point of no return for the most vulnerable, with adults – and more likely children – dying every day from starvation. 14 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the UN.
Kevin Watkins, Save the Children CEO, who visited North East Nigeria last month said: “North East Nigeria is teetering on the brink of widespread famine. The UN estimates that 75,000 children could die over the next year from malnutrition: that’s as many as 200 children who could die every day.
“Some of the mothers I spoke to had walked for two weeks to get their children treated at Save the Children’s clinic. There is still a window of opportunity to prevent a full blown famine – but that window is closing fast. Failure to act would be indefensible and unforgivable.”
Among other interventions, Save the Children and ONE are calling for innovative financing opportunities to ensure the UN appeal is fully funded. Today’s report from Save the Children highlights that large sums of illicit finance from Nigeria are laundered through banks and the property markets in the United Kingdom.
It has been recently agreed that criminal assets stolen from Nigeria and seized in the UK can now be returned to Nigeria, with the Nigerian government pledging to use any returned funds to benefit the poorest.
Watkins continued: “This is a very welcome step forward. Save the Children is now calling on the UK Government to expedite the return of these funds, and for the Government of Nigeria to use the funds for the humanitarian response. Other OECD countries and the Nigerian government itself should apply the same principle.”
As the Nigerian army continues its advance into insurgent strongholds in areas bordering Niger, Chad and Cameroon, it is almost inevitable that more humanitarian suffering will be revealed. The conflict has been characterised by systematic, widespread and grave violation of children’s rights. Killing, abductions and sexual abuse, and the forced recruitment into militias has been tragically commonplace. Many children have witnessed atrocities first-hand, or have themselves been subject to attacks, and are in desperate need of psychosocial support.
Three teenage brothers captured and imprisoned for three months told Save the Children staff during a counselling session for displaced children:
“The day our village was attacked, our teacher was with us. They cut off our teacher’s head with a sword. They killed our parents. They dropped them in a well. They told us to stop crying or we will also be killed. We heard the voices of our parents screaming inside our heads.”
Save the Children has already witnessed the deadly effects of a delayed international response. As the crisis has intensified, it has established seven outpatient therapeutic-feeding sites and an emergency unit to which children with life threatening malnutrition can be referred for treatment. Children referred to the centre display the classic symptoms of Kwashiorkor (lack of protein leading to fluid-retention), Marasmus (energy deficiency) and extreme hunger, with distended stomachs, pencil thin limbs, loss of hair, acute anaemia and severe skin conditions. Most arrive with complicating conditions, including diarrhoea and pneumonia.
Many of the children being treated have been carried or walked for between three days and two weeks from areas like Mafa and Konduga. One mother in Save the Children’s emergency feeding clinic in Maiduguri told of how her husband, uncle and three children were beheaded in front of her. Another described sometimes going for five days without food.
Another concern, widely voiced by parents in Save the Children clinics, is that children leaving the stabilisation clinic are returning to an environment marked by extreme poverty, rising food prices, and little or no support.
1 For the UN to officially declare a famine, three important conditions must be met. First, 20 per cent of the population must have fewer than 2100 kilocalories of food available per day. Secondly, more than 30 per cent of children must be acutely malnourished. And finally, two deaths per day in every 10,000 people – or four deaths per day in every 10,000 children – must be being caused by lack of food.
NOTES TO EDITORS:
For enquiries contact:
Save the Children: Gemma Parkin (+44) 7988482649 / [email protected] or out of hours call (+44) 7831650409
ONE: Peter Simpson (+44) 07881370441 / [email protected]
The open letter to world leaders:
The tragedy now unfolding in North East Nigeria is one of the world’s deadliest but least reported emergencies – and must be addressed when humanitarian emergency donors gather this week in Geneva.
Over 4.7 million people are in need of food assistance and some 400,000 children are at imminent risk of starvation. Almost 2 million people have been displaced. Most are living without adequate nutrition or clean water. And over half-a-million children have lost access to education. Many of the areas affected are inaccessible due to ongoing conflict and insecurity – so the final numbers of those in need are likely to be far higher.
The international aid response has been inadequate. Less than 40% of the humanitarian response plan for 2016 was funded – and the shortfall has cost lives. Part of the avoidable tragedy is that only a small group of donors have risen to the challenge. The UK, the US and the European Union’s emergency fund account for most of the limited support provided so far. Donors conspicuous by their absence from the humanitarian response to North East Nigeria must now step up to the plate and do more. Estimates for 2017 put emergency financing requirements at US$1.2bn. These resources are needed to keep girls and boys alive: warnings from the UN and NGOs that business-as-usual will cost 200 child lives a day must be taken seriously.
Of course, the ultimate responsibility for the humanitarian response rests squarely with Nigerian authorities. President Buhari’s government has demonstrated serious intent. But a coordinated commitment between the Nigerian government, international partners and UN agencies is only just coming together and too many partners have acted far too slowly. Decisive action now must be delivered in a way that both save lives but also tackles the long term causes of the crisis: a combination of extreme poverty, corruption, marginalisation and inequality that has been exploited by Islamic extremists. That is why we urge donors and the Nigerian government to link the immediate humanitarian response to a recovery strategy that openly and accountably delivers the education, jobs, infrastructure required so we can save lives now and stops the crisis recurring in the future.
Aliko Dangote, President of the Dangote Group, Chairman of the Dangote Foundation
David Oyelowo OBE, award-winning British-Nigerian actor
Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International
Nachilala Nkombo, Africa Executive Director for the ONE Campaign (interim)
Kevin Watkins, CEO of Save the Children
Bono, co-founder of ONE and lead singer of U2
Mo Ibrahim, Founder of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation
Additional findings from ‘Children’s Lives and Futures at Risk’ include a series of alarming risk factors:
- Sorghum, millet and maize prices have all almost doubled in the space of a year. One of the factors driving price inflation is the depreciation of the Nigerian Naira, which has lost more than 40per cent of its value since early 2016;
- Mass displacement has reduced planting and prospects for the 2017 harvest;
- Hundreds of health facilities have been damaged or destroyed, particularly in Borno state;
- HIV cases are also on the rise in camps, largely due to sexual abuse;
- Nigeria had its first new cases of polio in 2 years;
- Half of 9 to 12 year olds in the North East have never been to school: disenfranchised youth facing unemployment, marginalisation and poverty represent easy prey for recruiting extremists;
- The state capital of Borno, Maiduguri, now hosts an estimated 1.4 million IDPs, almost doubling the population;
- Over 600 teachers have been killed and 19,000 displaced;
- 20,000 children who have become separated from their parents or guardians, and many who have been orphaned. More than a quarter of the children on the Save the Children child protection database are orphans.
About Save the Children in Borno State, North East Nigeria:
Save has teams of volunteers who go throughout communities looking for children who may be malnourished and referring suspected cases to our seven outpatient therapeutic feeding sites. We have opened a stabilization centre to treat children who are severely malnourished with complications such as malaria and respiratory infections – a life-threatening combination. We currently provide food assistance to 7,500 families, with plans to reach another 5,000. We are installing latrines and water pumps to help people say healthy, and have a programme to reduce the risk of cholera.
We run nurseries where young children go to keep up their education, and child friendly spaces where displaced children can play with psychological support from our trained teams amid the heartbreak and chaos.
We are also training foster carers and providing case workers to ensure vulnerable children and those without their parents have the care and support they need to start recovering from the traumatic experiences they’ve been through.
ONE is a policy and advocacy organization of more than 7.5 million people taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. Not politically partisan, ONE was co-founded by U2 lead singer Bono to raise public awareness and press political leaders to combat AIDS and other preventable diseases, increase investments in agriculture and nutrition, and demand greater transparency in poverty-fighting programs.