NIGERIA

Unicef warns of world’s most urgent food crisis in Nigeria’s Borno state, where 4.5 million people need aid

With the emergency comparable to Ethiopia and Somalia about five years ago, there is an ­urgent need to intervene with assistance

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 September, 2016, 4:39pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 September, 2016, 10:12pm

The food crisis unfolding in ­Nigeria’s northeastern Borno state is probably the worst in the world at the moment, with 4.5 million people in need of assistance out of which 1 million are in danger of extreme malnutrition, according to the UN children’s agency, Unicef.

“We haven’t found the right words yet to describe the magnitude of the problem,” Arjan de Wagt, Unicef’s chief of nutrition in Nigeria, said in an interview in the capital, Abuja. “I’ve checked with my colleagues in New York and they’re not aware of anywhere around the world people are in this kind of situation.”

We haven’t found the right words yet to describe the magnitude of the problem
Arjan de Wagt, Unicef’s chief of nutrition in Nigeria

Aid workers first began to gain access to parts of the country’s northeast in April as government forces pushed back Boko Haram Islamist militants from many of the places they had occupied. Every subsequent information coming from the area since then has only added to the grimness of the situation, de Wagt said.

The group has been on a ­violent campaign since 2009 to impose their version of Islamic law in Africa’s most populous country of about 180 million ­people. Tens of thousands of people have died in the violence and millions have been forced to flee their homes.

An estimated 2.5 million people remain cut off in parts of the north of Borno, where insurgents are active, making it unsafe for humanitarian workers.

“People are completely cut off from trade routes, from aid and they’ve not been able to plant,” De Wagt said. “Severely mal­ourished children have the risk of one in five dying.

“For these kids in Borno, the risk is much higher because they don’t have proper food and there’s no health care. That’s why we have a polio outbreak.”

The number of those approaching the most serious rank of a five-level malnutrition scale has increased steadily since early in the year, with at least 1 million “in severity level four” and another 75,000 people facing outright famine, the worst case, the Unicef official said.

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With the emergency comparable to Ethiopia and Somalia about five years ago, there is an ­urgent need to intervene with assistance, particularly food with the right nutrients for vulnerable people such as children, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, according to Unicef.

“The world and Nigeria doesn’t realise how bad this is,” De Wagt said. “If you look at the level and the indicators, I’m not aware of anywhere you have this magnitude and this number.”