In Nigeria the Boko Haram insurgency has led to a food crisis the extent of which is only now being uncovered. Farms and food stores have been destroyed in the wake of the insurgency and farming is yet to resume in areas cut off by instability, even more so as the fields remain barren. For most families, their breadwinners and farm hands are either missing or have been killed in the crisis.
Médecins Sans Frontières warned last week that malnourished children were dying in large numbers. The following day, an insurgent attack led to the suspension of the delivery of vital supplies, compounding the crisis. Thierry Laurent-Badin, programme director for Action Contre la Faim in Nigeria, estimates that about 244,000 children are currently suffering from severe acute malnutrition in areas that used to be a complete no-go due to security restrictions, a figure also announced recently by UNICEF who urged donors and other humanitarian organisations “to scale up the response to the emerging disaster in Borno state”, and pledged to continue to work at full strength in Maiduguri.
The insurgency has claimed more than 20,000 lives since 2009 and at one time, Boko Haram had annexed a swathe of land the size of Belgium from the territory of Nigeria and renamed it Islamic State West Africa Province. While joint military operations with Chad, Niger, and Cameroon have led to the reclamation of most of the area pockets of violence remain in small towns and villages in the region. Last week, insurgents ambushed a UN convoy returning from Bama, north of Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, injuring two aid workers. It was the first attack of its kind in the region and prompted all UN agencies to halt missions to areas outside the city. The attack had far-reaching consequences on the distribution of food and other supplies to hundreds of thousands of civilians living outside Maiduguri who have been uprooted by the seven years of violence. Even before the recent travel suspension, only the UN had the capacity to travel to high-risk areas. Some other international aid agencies refused to use armed escorts due to neutrality concerns.
There have long been allegations of rampant misappropriation of resources by government stakeholders. The tentacles of corruption, a major issue in Nigeria, seem to have spread to the humanitarian sector as well. In May, fights broke out between soldiers and policemen in Maiduguri over trucks of rice and other foodstuffs donated by Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, when he personally visited the Bakassi and Dalori camps in the city.
A month later, a video showing officials of the Borno State Emergency Management Agency repackaging food items allocated to the IDP camps by NEMA and diverting them for resale went viral on social media.
“A lot of sharing and sorting is done, so not everything gets to the IDPs at the end of the day,” an aid worker told IRIN on condition of anonymity. “Right now in Bakassi camp, IDPs say they are given raw food rations weekly, and left to figure out how they get it cooked, I suppose. The arrangement used to be that NEMA provides staples then SEMA provides firewood and condiments, but SEMA hasn’t been living up to their end. A lot of money has gone down the drain. You need to hear the ridiculous amounts they claim to use to get stuff like firewood.”
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