Friday, October 28, 2016

The famine which isn't a famine

 The ongoing war with Boko Haram that stretches across Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon has displaced 2.6 million people, both within national borders and across them. It has also left 6.3 million without enough food. The lack of food is the cumulative impact of three years of lost farming seasons, or of crops and livestock left behind, or looted. It is a consequence of towns and villages cut off by fighting, preventing people from leaving or food from coming in.

For the UN to declare a famine, 20 percent of families in a state or province face extreme food shortages, over 30 percent of the population, must be acutely malnourished and hunger causes two out of every 10,000 people to die every day. For those in north-eastern Nigeria not quite meeting the formal definition of famine, it is nothing short of a disaster.

Médecins Sans Frontières alerted the international community of a “catastrophic humanitarian emergency” in June, they were encountering rates of malnutrition and mortality rates in young children that were consistent with famine conditions in newly accessible towns. About 2.1 million people in Nigeria remain completely cut off from any external assistance because of the conflict. We don’t know what their conditions are like, but the conditions in these newly accessible towns raise grave concerns. People still in inaccessible areas are hardly going to cultivate their way out of hunger: even if people could plant crops, the next harvest is more than 12 months away. So aid supplies and the populations we suspect are in the greatest need remain cut off from one another.

We don’t currently have a defined famine in the Nigerian north east, but it’s hardly the point. We have 65,000 people already experiencing famine conditions, people cut off by violence and more than a million people with severe hunger, and we’re only meeting a fraction of the need.

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