A whole generation is missing in Nigeria‘s Borno State. There are no toddlers clinging to their siblings’ hips or babies wailing for their mothers. This is because, in Borno State, there are hardly any children under 5 years of age. This is largely due to displacement compounded with a severe lack of nutrition.
In 2013 and 2014, those from northeast Nigeria fled their homes and livelihoods to escape attacks by the Boko Haram, an Islamist terrorist group. By the thousands, they escaped to Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria’s Borno State. As the fighting continued and spread, farmers were barred from working their land and trade routes were sealed off. Markets emptied. Imports into areas held by the Boko Haram were entirely cut off, leading to widespread starvation. Nearly 500,000 people are living in unacceptable conditions.
This severe deficit of food and essential nutrients has led to unprecedented rates of malnutrition among the population, which in turn, led to high rates of disease in the very young and very old. Measles, malaria and diarrheal diseases run rampant through the population. Acute respiratory infection claims young lives by the dozens.
Those most affected are those under 5 years of age, who die at intolerable rates from malnutrition, infection and typically preventable diseases. They are the victims of acute political unrest and, more immediately, they are the victims of hunger. Nutritional screenings taken throughout the state show that 50 percent of children in the Borno State are severely malnourished. Even in areas where food is available, prices have increased tremendously in just a matter of months. With each spike in the price of food, more households find themselves unable to eat.
These circumstances led the Nigerian government to announce a nutritional emergency in Nigeria’s Borno State in June of 2016. The people in Borno State are in dire need of help and, while Nigeria’s government has recognized the magnitude of this epidemic, the crisis must be acknowledged worldwide for maximum impact. There must be measures implemented to make sure that people can reach food and humanitarian aid in protected locations. Massive global aid is crucial to the survival of these people.
Doctors Without Borders is calling for a major humanitarian response to the crisis, even as teams are reaching affected areas. It is not enough. U.N. agencies, particularly the World Food Programme, should scale up interventions. In America, the Food for Peace Reform Act, which proposes to help end global hunger using the most efficient and cost effective means possible, must be supported and passed in congress.
Aid needs to be scaled up now, today and every day following until the needs of the Nigerian people are met— until we are able to replenish an entire lost generation.
– Kayla Provencher