UN humanitarians issued an alert on Tuesday over the deteriorating situation for millions of mainly women and children in northeast Nigeria who continue to be affected by protracted armed conflict, just as the country enters the lean season.
Well over eight million people are in need of assistance in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe (BAY) states, and an estimated 600,000 face emergency levels of food insecurity because of extremist violence centred around the Lake Chad region, that’s now in its 12th year.
Although previously dominant Boko Haram militia have been significantly weakened since the group’s leader was killed over a year ago, it continues to carry out indiscriminate attacks, said the UN’s top relief official in Nigeria, Matthias Schmale. Another extremist offshoot, ISWAP, is also dangerous, although it had also suffered setbacks, he noted.
As in previous years, a staggering one million people are also beyond the reach of international aid teams, said Mr. Schmale, who is the acting UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria.
Briefed Member States in Geneva on situation in NE #Nigeria, calling on international community to get urgent resources to aid most vulnerable, incl 1.7m food insecure kids. 8.4M people need humanitarian assistance in 2022 & 4.1M face perilous food insecurity this lean season pic.twitter.com/0dGB9q0r8D
More than 80 per cent of those in need are women and children, who also face “abductions, rape and abuse”, while indiscriminate attacks in Borno state make it the most “unstable place to be”, he added.
He told journalists in Geneva that the UN was aiming to support at least 5.5 million, out of the 8.4 million in need overall. “The conflict has left 2.2 million people presently displaced…We’ve just entered what is called the lean season that normally lasts until September; last year it lasted until November, so we’re also seeing the impact of climate change.”
Mr. Schmale noted that although Nigeria is a major oil producer, it lacks refineries which means that it has not benefited from the global surge in energy prices, linked to war in Ukraine.
“It’s early days yet in terms of understanding the full impact, as you may know, in Nigeria from the beginning there was speculation as to whether Nigeria would benefit as an oil-producing country.
We’re not seeing that in fact at all, because Nigeria, as contradictory as this may sound, depends very largely on imports of refined oil so, the price rises we’ve seen are not benefiting Nigeria, that’s one concern.”
In time, the massive country could feed itself and avoid ever costlier food imports, the UN official insisted, although for the moment, it lacks the infrastructure and agricultural investment required to be competitive at a global level.
Of particular concern are the 1.74 million children under five who are expected to be suffer from acute malnutrition in the north-east in coming months.
“A key message is ringing the alarm bell,” Mr. Schmale said. “If we don’t get immediate funding soon for an initial multisector response plan worth $350 million, we will have a crisis that will be much worse in a couple of months.”
He added: “We hope that the international community realises that you ignore a situation like in the north-east of Nigeria at your own peril; it could have far-reaching consequences beyond the borders of Nigeria if we’re not able to keep it stable.”
While the number of deaths from terrorism has declined, the overall threat is far from over, particularly in Africa, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in New York on Wednesday.
The “enormous challenges” faced by the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno, which include a continuing terrorist insurgency, need to be recognized by the international community to create what the UN Secretary-General has called a “state of hope and a state of reality”, in a region which he said did not live up to its reputation for “terrorism, violence, displacement or despair.”