By Akanimo Sampson
Around eight million people in the North-East region of Nigeria are in need of assistance, a global humanitarian organisation that is committed to ending world hunger, Action Against Hunger, has said.
Since 2012, the region has been facing insecurity due to conflict with the Boko Haram insurgent group, which has caused a deepening humanitarian crisis and devastated civilians.
According to the humanitarian group, ‘’7.7 million people need assistance and 1.6 million are internally displaced. Many face hunger, and an estimated three million could suffer critical food insecurity. Children under five in Nigeria experience high malnutrition rates: 43.6% are stunted, 10.8% are wasted.’’
Without the doubt, Nigeria is Africa’s wealthiest, most populous country, and is arguably, the fastest-growing economy. Despite this, more than 50 percent of the country’s estimated over 180 million population lives below the poverty line, and Northern Nigeria suffers the world’s third highest level of chronic under-nutrition among children.
This silent crisis, according to Action Against Hunger, ‘’is caused by lack of access to safe water and sanitation, rising food insecurity, the disruption of basic services due to conflict, and poor knowledge of healthy feeding practices for infants and young children.’’
Civilians have limited access to assistance, and food remains a major need in displacement settlements. Prolonged absence of food security, livelihoods, healthcare, education, clean water, and sanitation and hygiene facilities exacerbate risks.
Protection concerns include arbitrary detention, forced conscription, domestic violence, forced and early marriages, trafficking, and sexual exploitation and abuse.
Action Against Hunger has been working in Nigeria since 2010. From 2014 to 2015, the group doubled the volume of their operations in response to the crisis, meeting the humanitarian needs of 2.1 million people with health and nutrition programmes; clean water and sanitation to reduce malnutrition and disease; emergency cash transfers to help displaced people purchase food or meet other urgent needs; and longer-term food security initiatives.
In 2016, they scaled up their programmes in the country even further, yet again doubling the volume of their operations to meet rising needs, despite an extremely challenging environment.
The group has been playing a leading role in strengthening nutrition security in Northern Nigeria over the last five years, and scaled up their operations in 2016 following the Borno State Government’s declaration of a nutrition emergency.
Adding to their extensive portfolio of long term development and humanitarian response programming, they opened a new office in Monguno to deliver immediate life-saving support.
Working closely with partners, Action Against Hunger provided food to displaced people and host families, distributed much-needed sanitation and hygiene items, and organised blanket supplementary feeding programmes for children under five and pregnant and lactating women.
To address the current and projected issues families face in the troubled region, the group has employed a multi-sectoral approach to meet the rapidly growing humanitarian needs while maintaining their commitment to improving nutrition security in the long term.
While an estimated 900,000 people remain out of reach for humanitarians, but some areas became accessible in 2017, the group said, ‘’we prioritised aid for the most vulnerable, commencing operations in six areas within Yobe and Borno and expanding programmes in Maiduguri and Monguno to assist newly displaced people and respond to a cholera outbreak.
‘’In Jigawa, our development programmes help children grow up healthy and strong. In 2017, the Working to Improve Nutrition in Northern Nigeria programme to prevent and treat malnutrition was successfully concluded after six years. Through the primary health system, the project delivered nutrition-focused interventions to over two million children and caregivers.
‘’In 2017, our programmes improved nutrition security for 6,372,449 people.
- Reaching at-risk mothers and children: We worked with partners to scale up nutrition services to reach the most vulnerable mothers and children with lifesaving treatment.
- Providing education and safety nets. We provided pregnant women and mothers with young children with cash transfers meet their families’ urgent food needs, nutrition education to improve their knowledge of vital care and feeding practices for infants and young children.
- Rebuilding infrastructure: In Yobe and Borno, where entire communities have been destroyed by conflict, we built new water sources and latrines, and rebuilt water points that were in disrepair. We also provided displaced populations with showers and hygiene kits to ensure adequate sanitation.
- Letting communities lead: In Yobe and Borno, we set up “Community Led” sanitation initiatives that put displaced people in charge of managing adequate sanitation conditions in their homes and shared public spaces.
- Meeting basic survival needs: We provided at-risk displaced families—and vulnerable households in host communities—with monthly cash transfers and electronic vouchers to allow them to purchase food in local markets or pay for other urgent household needs.
- Providing mothers with support systems: Our Porridge Momsinitiative in Borno established mother-to-mother support groups, built community cooking stoves, and hosted cooking demonstrations to educate mothers about how to prepare nutritious foods. In Yobe and Borno, we helped displaced families earn income with micro-gardening and micro-business training.
‘’When Ya Fati’s home and village were destroyed by the conflict in Northern Nigeria, instead of food rations, she received monthly cash installments through Action Against Hunger’s emergency food assistance programme.
‘’She used her cash to pay for shelter for her family, medicine, and food at the local market. Before, I was dependent on my relatives. I can now feed my family, she says. Ya Fati has even been able to save a little money from her monthly allocation, which she invested in two sheep, a source of future earnings: I will try to also fatten my sheep so that I can make my own money.’’