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Nigeria: Massive Aid Effort Needed for Borno State

22 Jul 2016

A humanitarian catastrophe is underway in northeastern Nigeria’s war-torn Borno State, where at least 500,000 people are in urgent need of food, medical care, water, and shelter. We have warned, calling for a major aid response.

As the Nigerian army regains control of towns and villages in the conflict with Boko Haram, the extent of the emergency is becoming more apparent. Many people have been cut off from the outside world for as long as two years. Displaced people now living in towns controlled by the military are entirely dependent on outside aid - with many suffering from malnutrition as food is insufficient. "Aid agencies must deploy a massive relief operation to respond to this humanitarian emergency," said Dr. Isabelle Defourny, Médecins Sans Frontières Director of Operations. On June 21, a Médecins Sans Frontières team observed extremely high levels of malnutrition and mortality in Bama, Borno State’s second largest city. Bama is now a ghost town with just over 10,000 inhabitants living in a camp, and like many parts of Borno State, it is accessible only under army escort.

Nearly 1,500 people - the most vulnerable and sick - were then evacuated by the authorities and food aid increased. Yet we have still found that 15 percent of children in the camp suffer from severe acute malnutrition, and there have been about 40 deaths in the last three weeks. There are almost no young men or teenage boys in the camp in Bama - an indication of the severity of the conflict that the community has endured. A Médecins Sans Frontières team arrived in Bama yesterday to provide support with medical and nutritional treatment. Their objective is to rapidly reduce mortality and malnutrition among the displaced. The most critical cases will be transferred to Maiduguri. Improving access to water as well as hygiene conditions in the camp is equally urgent.

"15 percent of children in the camp suffer from severe acute malnutrition, and there have been about 40 deaths in the last three weeks"

Yet Bama is only one of many communities in Borno State that are in dire need of aid. Monguno, a town of 150,000 inhabitants - 65,000 of whom are displaced - has been without medical care since January 2015. Médecins Sans Frontières F plans to relaunch activities at a hospital in Monguno and treat children with severe acute malnutrition. "Everything suggests that the situation of people in other towns is just as critical and that they also need food and medical care," Defourny said. Every day, displaced people arrive in the state capital Maiduguri, reporting great difficulty in accessing food in the communities they are fleeing. In addition, there are cases of measles among the new arrivals, indicating that an epidemic is underway.

We are conducting other exploratory missions when and where it can, as insecurity is a major issue. Towns such as Bama and Dikwa and other areas close to the front line are vulnerable to attack by Boko Haram, and access is limited. Meanwhile, with the influx of people to Maiduguri, the city’s hospitals are overwhelmed and have to turn patients away. Recently, six newly arrived children with measles could not be hospitalised and were sent back to a camp, increasing the risk of further infections. A Médecins Sans Frontières team is working to increase the city’s hospital capacity, Defourny said.