Matthias Schmale, the departing UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria, is calling for continued attention to the country’s most vulnerable people in spite of dwindling funding and changing conflict situations.
During a farewell interview with HumAngle, Schmale voiced his concern about the growing difficulty in obtaining enough funds for humanitarian work.
“We requested $1.3 billion for our operations in the northeast this year, but we only got about 40% of that, which is 520 million. This shows how tough the situation is,” he said.
Despite these financial hurdles, Schmale confirmed the UN’s dedication to putting the needs of the most vulnerable first, especially women, boys, and girls, who make up 80 per cent of their target aid recipients.
“We need to concentrate on helping the most vulnerable,” Schmale stressed, noting that children suffering from severe malnutrition should be at the top of the list.
He also emphasised the importance of providing access to basic needs like food, clean water, and basic healthcare.
“Food is a big issue. Clean water is another one, and then basic healthcare… these are the main areas we need to focus on,” he said.
Schmale also mentioned the changing methods of insurgent groups, leading to a rise in civilian casualties.
“Insurgents are now focusing more on random attacks and targeting civilians. The rising number of civilian deaths and injuries reflects this change,” he warned.
Working in a country as large and diverse as Nigeria presents its own challenges, Schmale added.
“The question is: where do we focus our efforts in such a big country with so many people in need?” he asked, highlighting the vital need for careful planning and prioritisation.
Looking forward, Schmale shared the UN’s plans for the upcoming year, which include helping 4.4 million people and asking for $860 million in aid. He explained that this lower figure does not mean there are fewer people in need, but it’s a realistic estimate of the funding that will be available.
Reflecting on his time in Nigeria, Schmale expressed hope that the international community will keep supporting the humanitarian work in Nigeria, given the extreme vulnerability of the population.
He also spoke about the difficulties he faced as a coordinator, especially when it came to coordinating the efforts of the 21 UN agencies working in Nigeria. “Working as one UN is quite a challenge,” he admitted.
“There are 21 UN agencies in Nigeria, and getting them to move in the same direction has not always been easy. They do good work, but working as one UN remains quite a challenge, that’s one. I think that looking more at Nigeria as a context of Nigerian Violence is also a challenge; you know this better than I do. I think violence is not just in the Northeast; it’s very strong in the North West. There are a lot of very vulnerable people in the Northwest but also in other parts of the country, the Southeast, for example. So, it remains a challenge for all of us to support the government in quite insecure environments. And then, of course, maybe a third challenge is just the simple size of Nigeria’s 220 million people. We haven’t had a proper census for a while, but most people, I think agree. It’s way over 200 million people, that’s huge.”
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