Child malnutrition on the rise amid conflict in northeast Nigeria

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) — Iza Ali’s five children are still waiting to eat at 3 pm It’s not the first day the family has gone without food since they fled extremist violence in northeastern Nigeria six years ago.

She and her husband scrape together $3 a day, but it’s rarely enough to feed the family of seven. They often forage for vegetables outside the Jere IDP camp, where they live on the outskirts of Maiduguri.

“If we don’t see food, we drink water,” says the 25-year-old mother, as her 4-month-old son tugs at her dress. “Only God can help us.”

Aid agencies are warning that families like hers are increasingly at risk from lower food production this year in Nigeria and the siphoning off of global humanitarian funds as a result of the war in Ukraine.

Acute malnutrition has grown from affecting 1.4 million children in the northeast to 1.7 million in the last year, according to Priscilla Bayo Nicholas, a nutrition specialist at the UN agency for children in Nigeria’s Borno state. . In 2017, the number was just 400,000.

“If we don’t treat them, we will lose these children,” he warned.

Like Ali, many in northeast Nigeria have seen their livelihoods destroyed since 2009, when extremists launched an insurgency in Africa’s most populous country. Attacks carried out by Boko Haram and its offshoot, the Islamic State in West Africa province, have killed more than 35,000 people in Nigeria and neighboring Chad, Niger and Cameroon, while at least 2.1 million people have been displaced, according to UN figures.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres met with displaced Nigerians last week while in Maiduguri to wrap up his tour of three West African countries on a “solidarity visit with victims of terrorism.”

“I saw smiles. I saw enthusiasm. I saw hope,” Guterres said. “And this is where we need to invest,” he added, calling for an additional $351 million as part of the total $1.1 billion for the UN humanitarian response plan for Nigeria.

The displaced, however, say their hopes are fading every day.

In the Banki IDP camp, near the border with Cameroon, UN staff care for more than 50,000 people displaced by violence. The camp is surrounded by heavily armed soldiers and filled with women and children whose future is uncertain.

Patched up with bandages and visible wounds, children suffering from acute malnutrition lay on beds under the watchful eyes of their mothers and caregivers inside the camp’s nutrition center.

Here, 20-month-old Mbolena rubs her swollen stomach, which hangs over her tiny frame and visible veins. Her mother, Isa Ali, says she is thankful that she at least “feels better now.” At her bedside, Maryam Hassan passionately embraces her critically injured baby as he clings to life.

Many more children are trapped in places that aid workers cannot access due to security risks, Nicholas told The AP.

Gomezgani Jenda, from Save the Children International’s Nigeria office, said the conflict is exacerbating problems already facing children in the region.

“The humanitarian situation affecting children in these areas remains challenging with an urgent need that is even greater than before,” said Jenda.

In many refugee camps in Nigeria, government agencies provide food, while aid agencies focus primarily on educational and health needs. But the amount that comes from the Nigerian government aid agency every two months rarely lasts more than a few days, said Mala Bukar, president of the Jere camp.

The nation’s Humanitarian Affairs Ministry did not respond to a query from The AP.

Nigerian authorities have begun closing some of the camps for displaced people as part of efforts to return people to their homes abandoned in a war that the nation’s leader, President Muhammadu Buhari, said last week was “nearing its conclusion.”

More than 50,000 Islamic militants have surrendered, according to the Nigerian military. However, the International Crisis Group has said that the most dominant faction, ISWAP, is “consolidating its control over new rural areas”, in parts of Borno state.

Ali wants the violence to end there so that she, her husband and their five children can return home and farm again. However, the impending attacks haunt her, so she remains displaced.

“We want to go back,” he said. But only “if the brush is cleared and there are no Boko Haram members to kill us.”

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