While I was out of town last week, my daughter was having a medical issue that was causing her to be in a great deal of pain. I felt so powerless to comfort her or do anything specific to provide her some relief, because really all I had was a smartphone, the ability to text back and forth, and an overload of maternal love that had no place to go. It was frustrating.
As I began learning about the famine and acute humanitarian crisis in Northeast Nigeria that is just coming to light, I felt a similar powerlessness. What can one woman do to keep 184 children a day from dying of severe malnutrition?
While I can’t go to Northeast Nigeria to help, I can use my voice, my social media advocacy, and my dollars to help mobilize those who can make a difference. So can you.
Facts on the Nigerian Famine
Northeast Nigeria has for years endured poverty, violence, and political marginalization, but humanitarian needs have recently escalated due to a drought-induced water crisis, waves of violence and displacement, and inaccessibility for humanitarian organizations. As the Nigerian government regains control of territory previously controlled by insurgents, parts of northeast Nigeria are beginning to regain some stability. In turn, access to previously unreachable communities has brought to light extreme levels of deprivation and suffering as well as the need for urgent humanitarian action.
More than five million people are in need of critical food assistance across Northeast Nigeria. The crisis has hit children the hardest and the Boko Haram conflict and ensuing violence has compounded this overlooked humanitarian emergency.
In Northeast Nigeria, nearly 2,500,000 children¹ are severely malnourished and one in five of them will die if they receive no treatment. That equates to 184 children dying every day until the crisis is addressed.
More 3,000,000 people have been forced to flee their homes and are in need of humanitarian assistance. The majority of displaced people, including the most vulnerable individuals, are living in host communities — not camps.
In Nigeria alone, 18,000,000 people are food insecure² and there are 3,000,000 internally displaced people from the insurgency. 2,000,000 people are living in inaccessible areas in northeast Nigeria, so the extent of hunger and urgent need in those areas is still unclear.
Most of the people who have fled this violence are farmers, herders, and traders. They left their land and homes with nothing — and often watched them being destroyed as they fled.
Mercy Corps Shares:
Recent assessments, including those conducted by Mercy Corps – show that an estimated 800,000 people are living in burned villages and unstructured camps in 15 different locations across Borno state, facing widespread malnutrition, little-to-no food or assistance and no means to earn a living.
During an extensive needs assessment this summer, 97% of people interviewed reported they could not afford to buy food in the previous four weeks. Mercy Corps also found that at least 80% of shelters in these areas were damaged during the recent conflict. Because of continued insecurity, many farmers cannot reach the land where they cultivate food to eat and sell.
Many people in these communities survive by selling foraged firewood, begging or laboring for less than the equivalent of $1 per day.
More on the Challenges:
How did it get this bad this fast, you may wonder. There are several factors. 2,000,000 people are living in in accessible areas in Northeast Nigeria, so the extent of hunger and urgent need in those areas is still unclear (access was cut off completely by Boko Haram for months, impeding access to report on conditions and provide relief). According to Mercy Corps, the few aid organizations that have made it to newly accessible areas in northeast Nigeria have been sounding the alarm bell for months, urging the international community and government of Nigeria to hasten a response to this dire situation.
An article from MSF/Doctors Without Borders describes the situation in July of this year. The article details how up to 800,000 civilians had been cut off for over a year, and it describes emergency actions taken:
- Under military escort, a MSF team delivered some 40 metric tonnes of food last week to Banki, a town of 12,000 near the Cameroon border, including emergency supplies for more than 4,000 children.
- It vaccinated children against measles, which can be deadly in under-fives.
The article described how some roads are unsafe due to mines, prohibiting the delivery of aid. It concluded by sharing MSF General Director Bruno Jochum’s assessment:
“Probably the medical and epidemiological indicators are the worst we are facing today in the world.”
What You and I Can Do
This article from the Washington post provides a comprehensive description of the situation. (Please note the fact that polio has returned to this region. Until these reports, polio had been eradicated everywhere except Afghanistan and Pakistan.)
Show Your Support
Sign this petition established by Mercy Corps, which will be forwarded to your Senators and Representative.
Share on Social Media
Let your social media connections know about this issue (today is especially pressing because government discussions about funding are occurring next week, but sharing information at any time is appreciated). You can share the petition linked to above, and we encourage use of the hashtags #feedherchildren and #fightthefamine.
Call the offices of your Senators and Representative. Ask them to support allocations of $1.6 billion for Food for Peace and $2.8 billion for the International Disaster Assistance account. These are funds that help humanitarian issues across the globe. Please also urge an additional $100 million in emergency funds for Fiscal Year 2017 specifically for Nigeria. The number is 202-224-3121. I called the offices of Representative Gwen Graham, Senator Bill Nelson, and Senator Marco Rubio this morning. Every additional constituent who calls makes the case that much stronger for helping these people in this dire crisis.
Aid workers have reported that mothers no longer carry their children on their backs in Northeast Nigeria, a visually heart-rending reminder that even the strongest love is impotent in the fact of severe acute malnutrition. Mothers don’t have enough nutrition to breastfeed their babies.
If you’re like me, and have the luxury of a weekend ahead classified by adequate shelther, more than adequate food, and the peace of mind that freedom brings, take five minutes and make a difference for those who don’t?
If you can only do one thing, please follow the big green arrow, click on this petition and make a difference now.
*Some material in this post used with permission of Mercy Corps.
¹Nigerian INGO forum, October 2016
²Nigerian INGO forum, October 2016
Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many. My pronouns are she/her/hers.