Humanitarian CrisesNews

Nigeria’s Northwest In Need Of Humanitarian Response Scale-Up, Here’s Why

According to Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the UN’s current humanitarian response plan for Nigeria focuses on the critical situation in the country’s northeast region, excluding the northwest.

Dr Simba Tirimba, the country director of Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Nigeria, has stated that in the face of conflict, growing numbers of displaced persons, and unprecedented malnutrition cases in the northwestern part of Nigeria, only four humanitarian actors are responding to the crises in the region in comparison with 33 actors presently operating in three states (Borno, Adamawa, Yobe) in the northeast.

Dr Tirimba mentioned this while discussing ‘The Malnutrition Crisis In Northwest Nigeria’ on a Twitter space hosted by MSF on Tuesday, Sept. 27. He noted that while this does not mean creating a hierarchy of victims, a scale-up of intervention is necessary to confront catastrophic outcomes.

During the discussion, the organisation mentioned that they had witnessed a 60 percent increase in malnutrition cases, with the majority being children. Dr Tirimba explained that these increased interventions should be in three levels, “Treatment, treatment, treatment and that is an emergency, that is about the child’s survival.”

“Secondly, we are talking about blanket feeding programs. These folks don’t have food. So [organisations like] the World Food Programme (WFP) should do blanket feeding, which is absolutely necessary. Not as an intermediate, but an absolutely necessary step,” he said, positing that tackling food insecurity and dietary habits could be addressed as a longer-term strategy.

Acute malnutrition

Since January, MSF has been working with the health authorities in Nigeria and has treated nearly 100,000 children suffering from acute malnutrition in 34 outpatient facilities, admitting about 17,000 children requiring hospital care in 10 inpatient centres in Kano, Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto, and Kebbi states.

A nutrition survey carried out by the organisation has revealed that the crisis is severe even in relatively safer areas. In Katsina, 27.4 percent of moderate acute malnutrition, and 7.1 percent of severe acute malnutrition in June, indicate a critical emergency.

Dr Isabella DeFourney, President of MSF France, explained that children with severe acute malnutrition risk hospitalisation because of weakened immune systems that could expose them to various infectious diseases. “Children rarely die of malnutrition but could die from simple diseases such as diarrhoea, fever, malaria, and tuberculosis.

She explained that by the end of the year, the MSF medical centres could have been in charge of more than 150,000 malnourished children in Katsina alone, “that means more than 15,000 hospitalizations and more than a thousand children could die from malnourishment even with medical management.”

Dr DeFourney added that even if the state government provides specialised food, it would not be enough. The MSF is only responsible for people and children with the most severe acute malnutrition. 

Other humanitarian crises 

Since the beginning of 2022, the northwestern states of Zamfara, Kebbi, Sokoto, Katsina, and Kaduna have witnessed more violent attacks despite increased military actions in the region. The armed violence, climate change, and communal clashes have left thousands without shelter, potable water, or food.

In fact, in February, nearly 2.53 million people will face acute food insecurity (Phase 3 and above) from June to Aug. 2022. These figures have been exacerbated due to terror attacks.

Last year, farming activities were halted in nearly half of the local government areas in Katsina state. In a report, HumAngle spoke to farmers who stated that in Dandume Local Government Area (LGA), terrorists waited for farmers to harvest bags of maize before they attacked and snatched the produce.

This trend is happening all over the region and is said to have drastically reduced harvests, skyrocketing the prices of staple food items in the terror-troubled states of the region over the last four years compared to previous years, local sources revealed.

Apart from the impact on food production and farming activities, terrorism has displaced thousands of locals from their hometowns. According to the latest Displacement Tracker Matrix (DTM) in the region, over 969,757 IDPs were registered as of March, with Zamfara accounting for over 300,000 people at the time, with only 24 percent of them in camps/camp-like settings.

Last year, HumAngle visited some of the conflict-torn communities of Zamfara, where there has been inadequate shelter. This has pushed many displaced persons to live in harsh conditions in host communities where they do not have access to food or food assistance, except for members of the communities who decide to donate.

The case is the same in other states in the northwest, especially Katsina and Sokoto, where displacement camps are not enough to shelter the majority of the IDPs, leaving them to cater to themselves where they are exposed to hunger, starvation, and diseases. 

In another report that analysed the forms of displacements in northwest Nigeria, Murtala Abdullahi, HumAngle’s Head of Armed Violence Desk, linked the lack of attention from humanitarian actors to less international coverage than the northeast.

“Other factors include the lack of proper camps for displaced people and the limited presence of aid actors in the region,” he said, adding that the limited presence of humanitarian actors could further exacerbate the rise of diseases which could increase the death toll in the region 

Froukje Pelsma, the MSF’s head of mission in Nigeria, called for an organised humanitarian action to scale up the region. “We understand the United Nations, donors, and other stakeholders are increasingly aware of the extent of the crisis in the northwest, but there is a need to go beyond discussions,” 

“It’s essential that the northwest is included in the next Nigeria humanitarian response plan for 2023 because this plays a key role in mobilising the resources to save lives.”

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Zubaida Baba Ibrahim

Zubaida Baba Ibrahim is a journalist and a creative writer. Her works have been featured on Daily Trust, Premium Times and Guardian. She also has experience in broadcast journalism and is a graduate of Mass Communication from Baze University, Abuja. She tweets through @zvbaida

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