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While global aid is diverted due to Ukraine, children are starving in Nigeria

The impact of the war in Ukraine — and the diversion of global humanitarian funds to help those fleeing — is having an impact in northern Nigeria, where agencies warn of soaring malnutrition.

Iza Ali’s family is one example. 

At 3 p.m., her five children are still waiting to eat. It’s not the first day that the family has gone without food since they fled extremist violence in northeast Nigeria six years ago.

She and her husband scrape together $3 US a day, but it’s rarely enough. Often they scavenge for greens outside the Jere displacement camp where they live on the outskirts of Maiduguri.

“If we don’t see food, we drink water,” the 25-year-old mother said. “Only God can help us.”

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, right, walks alongside Borno State Governor Babagana Umara Zulum in Maiduguri, Nigeria, on Tuesday. Guterres said the reintegration of extremist rebels who have defected from the Boko Haram group is ‘the best thing we can do for peace.’ (Chinedu Asadu/The Associated Press)

Aid agencies are warning that families like hers are increasingly at risk amid lower food production in Nigeria this year, and as global humanitarian funds are diverted as a result of the war in Ukraine.

Acute malnutrition has soared from affecting 1.4 million children in the northeast of Nigeria to 1.7 million in the last year, according to Priscilla Bayo Nicholas, a nutrition specialist with the UN children’s agency in Nigeria’s Borno state. In 2017, the number was just 400,000.

“If we don’t treat them, we will lose these children,” she warned.

This is an aerial view of Jere camp for people displaced by Islamist extremists in Maiduguri, Nigeria. Aid agencies are warning that acute malnutrition is on the rise in northeast Nigeria. (Chinedu Asadu/The Associated Press)

UN chief calls for additional investment

Northeast Nigeria has suffered under an Islamist insurgency for more than a decade that has forced more than two million people from their homes.

People living in the displacement camps say the Nigerian government isn’t providing enough food for them.

Attacks carried out by extremist group Boko Haram and its offshoot — the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) — have killed more than 35,000 people in Nigeria and neighbouring Chad, Niger and Cameroon. At least 2.1 million people have been displaced, according to UN figures.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres met with displaced Nigerians last week while in Maiduguri, as he wrapped up his three-nation West African tour in a “visit of solidarity with the victims of terrorism.”

“I saw smiles. I saw enthusiasm. I saw hope,” Guterres said. “And this is where we must invest,” he added, calling for an additional $351 million as part of the overall $1.1 billion for the UN humanitarian response plan for Nigeria.

Food aid from Nigerian government doesn’t last

In many displacement camps in Nigeria, government agencies provide food while aid agencies mostly focus on educational and health needs. But the amount that comes from the Nigerian government relief agency every two months rarely lasts more than a few days, said Mala Bukar, chairman of the Jere camp.

The nation’s ministry of humanitarian affairs did not respond to an inquiry from The AP.

Iza Ali, 25, sits with her daughter at the Jere camp on Wednesday. (Chinedu Asadu/The Associated Press )

Nigerian authorities have started closing some of the displacement camps as part of efforts to return people to their hometowns. The nation’s leader, President Muhammadu Buhari, said last week that the war was “approaching its conclusion.”

More than 50,000 Islamist militants have surrendered, according to the Nigerian military. However, the International Crisis Group has said that the most dominant faction, ISWAP, is “consolidating its grip on new rural areas,” in parts of Borno state.

Ali wants the violence to stop there so she and her husband and five children can return home and farm again. However, impending attacks haunt her, so she remains displaced.

“We want to go back,” she said. But only “if the bush is cleared and there are no Boko Haram members that will kill us.”



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