Today in north-east Nigeria, millions of people are facing the painful consequences of a deteriorating food security and nutrition crisis. Food insecurity means not knowing when or where your next meal will come from. It means, in essence, not being able to meet the basic needs for yourself or your family. As a result, countless families are forced to make alarming sacrifices to survive. Many, particularly children, are at risk of not making it through the lean season.
According to the latest food security assessments, 4.1 million people in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States – three of the states in north-eastern Nigeria, are at risk of severe food insecurity in this lean season. People’s resilience and coping mechanisms have been devastated by more than a decade of conflict.
As food insecurity worsens, so does the risk of malnutrition. In 2022, 1.74 million children under five are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition across the north-east. Mothers who have lost their children to malnutrition can testify to the danger it poses and the sorrow and despair it brings. While visiting a nutrition stabilization center in the north-east I saw the haunting sight of a child on the brink of death, and it is a memory that continues to leave me troubled.
The food security situation is impacted by many factors, such as insecurity due to ongoing conflict, rising food prices and climate change. This is taking place in a region where people are already facing extreme vulnerabilities. North-east Nigeria has struggled through 12 years of conflict and instability due to the violence of non-State armed groups like Boko Haram. This year, 8.4 million people need humanitarian assistance, of which about 80 per cent are women and children. The violence has displaced more than 2.2 million people from their homes. Livelihoods, health services, education and other essential areas have been devastated, depriving millions of people of critical support and the capacity to provide for themselves and their families.
People displaced by violence have few options. Many fled to garrison towns for safety, where going beyond the towns’ protective ditches to practice agriculture or collect firewood puts their lives at risk. Many vulnerable people have little choice but to resort to negative coping mechanisms to obtain food, such as survival sex, child marriages, begging, child labor or recruitment into armed groups.
Hauwa, a mother in Rann, Borno State, has no access to food and must beg on the street to feed herself and her two children. But it is not nearly enough, and hunger has turned her body into something she no longer recognizes. She says, “This is not my body.” Her story is just one of countless stories of suffering that we hear every day.
The humanitarian community is gravely concerned about the millions of people facing the risk of hunger this lean season and the sacrifices they will make to survive. Every effort must be made to ensure that life-saving programmes continue to deliver food security assistance and respond to acute malnutrition. Humanitarian and government actors are ready to scale up interventions, but funding is urgently needed.
As part of the USD$1.1 billion required for the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan for Nigeria, a $351 million multisector response has been developed to save lives and protect the most vulnerable. Funds are immediately needed, and every contribution can make a difference. You can help get life-saving assistance to the people of north-east Nigeria by donating at: https://crisisrelief.un.org/nigeria-crisis. We need your support now, tomorrow may be too late for Hauwa and countless others.
- Mr. Matthias Schmale is United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria