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The Untold Story of Malnutrition in Northeast IDP camps

IDP-CAMPS in Borno State

LAST week, the Nigerian media and a section of the international media were flooded with the humanitarian crisis in Borno State escalated by the malnutrition of children which caught the world attention and the central government of Nigeria leading to the declaration of Nutritional Emergency in Borno State.

According to the Minister of Health Prof. Isaac Adewole, Nigeria stands to lose at least 80 children in a day from Borno state if nothing drastic is done. He, therefore, announced that the newly constituted ECOWAS Centre for Disease Control has been mandated to deal with the problem head on, adding that a rapid response team had been put up and would be merged with Borno’s response team.

Malnutrition has, as a matter of fact, killed lots of children in Northern Nigeria, even before the advent of the Boko Haram insurgency. So, the challenge has always been there; and there have been foreign interventions from Organizations like UNICEF and Action Against Hunger (AAH), which have established centers for the treatment of malnourished children called Community Based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM).

The Chief of Communications, UNICEF Nigeria, Ms Doune Porter, who agreed that malnutrition indeed existed in Northern Nigeria even before the insurgency crisis, added that the conflict has made the situation “significantly worse”.

She disclosed that from January to May 2016, UNICEF has admitted and treated 2,530 children in Borno State for acute malnutrition. She also informed that a total of 47,423 children from Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States were treated of acute malnutrition under the same period.

One issue that stood out when the malnutrition story broke out was the accusations and counter-accusations that sparked off from different quarters ranging from the presidency, Borno State Government and some NGOs working in Borno State.

Opposition politicians also took advantage of a rather humanitarian and pathetic situation to fuel their hate campaign against the Borno State Government, led by Governor Kashim Shettima on the management of IDPs in the state as it relates to donations, including cash.

But Shettima’s response has often been that the existence of malnutrition can never be denied, but that the issues and the facts should be put in proper perspective for the interests and dignity of even the victims.

While delivering a keynote address at a High Level Emergency Roundtable on the Humanitarian Crisis in Borno State which was held at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel in Abuja with the attendance of the Minister of Health, Professor Adewole; Permanent Secretary of the State House (the Presidency); heads of different organs of the United Nations and donor agencies, including the European Union, the United States Agency for International Development, the British Department for International Development and other actors, Shettima regretted the way and manner the malnutrition issue was presented.

He said: “Yes, the situation is almost overwhelming, the challenges frightening, but we are doing our best to confront them. It is common knowledge to this audience that the operation and management of Internally Displaced Persons camps are historically replete with a litany of problems. Even camps located in advanced countries like the Calais Jungle in France or more professionally managed ones like the Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya are not without their bouquet of challenges.

“It is against this backdrop that I would like to admonish us to exercise some degree of caution and restraint as we strive to bring the myriad of problems associated with the management of a humanitarian crisis of the scale existing in Borno Sate in particular and the North East in general to an end.

“For example, the slant of the news report carried by some sections of the international media on the admittedly dire situation in Bama attributed to the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was, to say the least, rather unhelpful. While we do not deny that the challenges the report tried to convey do exist, sufficient justice was not done to the fact that the Borno State Government, a few reputable NGOs, domestic and International and of course, the UN institutions are doing all we could within the limits of our resources to frontally address them.

“It is pertinent to mention that the MSF statement issued last week completely ignored the fact that interventions were already being made to address the unfortunate cases of malnutrition at the Bama IDP Camp. As at the time the statement was issued, over 100 children were hospitalised out of over 1,000 malnourished children and adults evacuated from Bama and placed under special care in Maiduguri.

“We constituted a team that successfully evacuated 478 children and 219 adults on Monday, the 13th of June,2016 and all of them were immediately taken to a Special Care Unit and 61 children hospitalised. The following morning, Tuesday, the 14th of June, I was at the Care Unit and the next day, Wednesday, the 15th of June, we summoned all the stakeholders from Bama, including the Shehu of Bama, for a meeting at the Government House, which I chaired, and from that meeting, we all moved to Bama with dozens of buses.

“We went with officials from Dangote Foundation and IOM, a United Nations outfit. Alongside the Shehu, we went round the CAMP and 600 additional adults and children were certified malnourished and evacuated to Maiduguri. All of these took place before the MSF statement.

“Even before my visit to Bama on 15th June, 2016, I was there on 5th April, 2016, together with Toby Lanzer, United Nations Assistant Secretary General & Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel. I think if this background had been given, the situation would have been put in a proper context without interfering with the objective of that statement by the MSF,” the governor said.

Also speaking on the efforts of the Borno State Government, the Commissioner for Home Affairs, Information and Culture, Dr. Mohammed Bulama, said it was not just children but also adults were rescued from the clutches of Boko Haram and they did not just lack food, they were in conditions where basic health care was completely absent but the Borno State government has taken up their care by evacuating them from those areas they were rescued by the military to give them special care in a nursery village, Maiduguri.

“We have 1,485 of cases of malnourished children in the nursery village in Maiduguri undergoing care, courtesy of the Borno State government in collaboration with other partners like FG, ICRC, IOM, MSF, UNICEF etc, Bulama said.

According to him, “As part of the Food and Nutrition Emergency being declared by the Federal Government, a rapid response team is being put in place and about to be deployed in the state and they will work along with the state government, the Ministry of Health, SEMA, the envoys of the state government and some of our partners to continue to take care of this situation”.

For those who are politicising the issue, Dr. Bulama has these words for them:  “Politicising the issue is unfortunate, it inhuman for anybody to try to politicise the conditions in which these IDPs are living. To be candid, we have never denied the fact that the situation is nearly overwhelming. We also always say that we needed assistance from every quarter. As a matter of fact, if the international community has not intervened, there is no way we would have coped with the situation. We are really grateful to everybody who has a genuine concern for our problem.

“The situation in Borno is even far worse than what people say. We have nearly 500,000 IDPs. Seventeen of them in Maiduguri, 15 satellite camps in local government areas and about six transitional camps, so anyone with a conscience should come along and work with the state government to deal with the unfortunate situation”.

While the Borno State Government has maintained her commitment to the transparent management of IDPs in the state arising from his meeting with the presidency, investigations have revealed that the flow of food for IDPs at the camps across the state has continued to dwindle as funding from the National Emergency Management Agency has dwindled.

The recent revelations by Shettima that the total cash assistance he has received for IDPs in the last five years was N345 million has left much to be desired, especially considering the heavy burden of catering for over 500,000 IDPs across camps in Borno State.

The Nation’s findings revealed that the MoU signed by NEMA with the governments of Yobe, Borno and Adamawa states over the feeding of IDPs has collapsed because NEMA allegedly failed to fulfill its own side of the agreement.

It is gathered that the agency was only getting her supplies from goods sized by the Nigeria Customs Services but are not available at the moment.

An official of the agency told our correspondent on the condition of anonymity that “contractors are no longer interested in doing business with NEMA because they are not sure when they would be paid”.

The source added that their budget had been cut down from N1.5 billion to N400million monthly owing to dwindling natural resources arising from low international price of oil. It added that some of the demands for the agency have been reduced to more than 70% with some of the staff now deployed back to Abuja for lack of funds.

It was gathered that some of the IDP camps feeding in Maiduguri have been taken over by international partners like ICRC who are feeding them at Dalori 1 & 2.

  • By Duku Joel, Maiduguri


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About the author

Sydney Chesterfield

Poet, Playwright, Philosopher, Humanitarian, mad lover of children and unflinching fighter for equality on all grounds viz. Women's rights, child rights, sine die.

Twitter: @syd_field