Thousands of people are believed to have died due to hunger and malnutrition and experts say that more than 65,000 people are officially classified as suffering from famine in a desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, one of the poorest places on earth.
Those experiencing the most extreme form of hunger are in pockets of north east Nigeria, mainly in Borno state, only recently accessible to humanitarian agencies following protracted military action to secure areas formerly under the control of Boko Haram. They are part of a humanitarian crisis largely ignored by the international community which is also affecting people in Niger, Chad and Cameroon.
Unless there is a rapid scale up in the provision of assistance, there will be many more deaths. Estimates suggest that as many as 67,000 children aged under 5 could die by the end of September in Nigeria’s Borno and Yobe states alone – that’s 184 every day – due to lack of nutritious food.
Oxfam is providing life-saving support in Nigeria, Niger and Chad to people who have been forced to flee their homes as well as the already impoverished communities in which they are taking shelter. We are providing people with desperately needed food as well as clean drinking water and sanitation to protect health and prevent the spread of disease. And we are also calling on donors and governments to act now to support humanitarian efforts.
BACKGROUND TO THE CRISIS
The present crisis across the Lake Chad basin began seven years ago as a result of the emergence of the group Boko Haram in Nigeria and military operations against it. Violence has escalated further in recent weeks exacerbating an already dire humanitarian situation. It has forced 2.7 million people to flee their homes, including 1.9 million Nigerians alone, and left over 9 million people in need of help.
Unable to grow or buy food, or access humanitarian aid, millions are going hungry. 3.8 million people across the Lake Chad Basin region as a whole face severe hunger. Over 20,000 people have been killed and thousands of girls and boys are thought to have been abducted. There have been alarming levels of sexual violence, violations of international humanitarian law (the law of armed conflict) and human rights law including the forced recruitment of civilians, even children, as combatants.
Fatima Mohammed* (35) from Nigeria’s Borno State is living among the Kabbar Maila host community. Boko Haram forced their way in to her home and cut her husband’s throat in front of her and her children. She is struggling and is not sure where her children’s next meal is coming from. *Name has been changed. Photo: Ibrahim Dung/Oxfam
AFRICA'S FASTEST GROWING DISPLACEMENT CRISIS
The Lake Chad Basin crisis now represents Africa’s fastest growing displacement crisis and is the seventh largest internally displaced population in the world. The conflict has caused widespread destruction of vital but already limited infrastructure, such as hospitals, schools, roads, markets and farmland.
Across the region, people are on the move trying to escape threats to their lives, liberty and other human rights in search of safety and protection. Since the start of the conflict in 2009, more than 20,000 people have been killed as a direct result of the violence. In 2015, around one in every 15 people who died throughout the world as a direct result of violent conflict died in Nigeria. Countless more are dying or face permanent disability as a result of hunger, disease and a lack of healthcare, the secondary impacts of war.
Children at the government-run Farm Centre camp in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria. It is a camp established by displaced people themselves when they moved into empty unfinished buildings the government was building for government workers. There are also people living in makeshift shelters, especially those who have arrived more recently. Oxfam is providing water, latrines and sanitation in the camp. Photo: Ibrahim Dung/Oxfam
Zarah Isa* (50) is from Borno State in Nigeria. She and her husband were farmers and grew vegetables. She also collected firewood which she would sell and their children used to go to school.
Caption info: Zarah Isa* (50) is from Borno State in Nigeria, one of the worst affected regions. She was forced to flee her village during a Boko Haram attack which saw her husband killed. *Name has been changed. Photo: Ibrahim Dung/Oxfam
But three years ago Boko Haram attacked her village and killed her husband. Unable to bury his body, Zarah was forced to flee with her six children. The oldest child was 12, the rest were aged under 10. They spent one month in the forest. To survive they drank water from open sources such as streams. Often the water was dirty. For food they relied on leftovers from communities they passed along the way, as well as scavenging for food that had been thrown away. It took them one week of walking through the forest on foot to reach the Kabbar Maila host community in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, where they now live.
Once in Maiduguri they asked around for people who came from their community. For two weeks they lived in a makeshift tent with 10 other internally displaced families and then through local community leaders she was able to find accommodation to rent with a local landlord. Zarah now lives with her children in a crowded room with a leaking roof. She pays her landlord with money her children bring back from begging but for the last three months she’s hasn’t had enough to cover the rent.
To feed the family, Zarah’s eldest daughter buys sachets of water from a vendor and hawks them on the streets. If her daughter is unable to make money from selling the water, the family goes hungry. When this happens she sends her daughter and some of her other children to beg for money. Zarah is unable to find work as people do not want to give jobs to someone her age as they are looking for younger people to do menial jobs. The family is barely able to eat two meals a day. Their meal usually consists of corn flour or maize and they are unable to afford vegetables or meat.
The local host community have opened their arms and have been very welcoming. They share the little they have but people are poor.
Her biggest need currently is food. When her children go hungry, it causes her pain. Zarah is unable to go back to her village and home because there is a lack of security there. She heard that people had gone back and had been killed. Her hope is to one day return home so that she and her children can grow food on their land and sustain themselves.
Zarah says: “I don’t like seeing my children go hungry, all I want is food. I am ready to go back home today if the government assures us on security, we can farm our food because we have our farms there.”
Read other stories and find more information in the new Oxfam report, Lake Chad’s Unseen Crisis.
A child outside a makeshift shelter at the Farm Centre camp in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria where 13,000 internally displaced families now live after fleeing their homes. Photo: Ibrahim Dung/Oxfam
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Oxfam has supported over 250,000 people so far in Nigeria since we began responding to the crisis in May 2014 but we urgently need your support.
We are providing people with desperately needed food as well as clean drinking water and sanitation to prevent the spread of disease.
An Oxfam water tank in the Kabbar Maila community which is hosting displaced people forced to flee their homes. Photo: Ibrahim Dung/Oxfam
We work in Adamawa, Borno and Gombe states, providing people with emergency food support, clean water and better sanitation, including constructing showers and repairing toilets, and making sure people have areas to wash their hands. We have set up community protection groups for women to give them information about access to support facilities if they have suffered from sexual violence and exploitation. We are distributing food and cooking equipment, as well as providing seeds and tools to help traders and farmers get back on their feet.
In Niger, Oxfam has helped over 31,400 people since our emergency response began there in 2015. We are installing water systems to make sure people have clean water to drink, as well as distributing essential items such as cooking pots, buckets and water purifying tablets. Elsewhere in Niger there has been massive flooding, and in some regions where the lean season – the time when people are at the end of their food until the next harvest comes – there is desperate hunger.
Oxfam has recently started responding to the crisis in Chad, with the aim to reach over 30,000 people. We will distribute cash and tarpaulins for shelter and provide clean water to people to help prevent the spread of diseases.
Please support our West Africa crisis emergency response. 100% of your donation will go directly to this response.
You can also add your voice to our Right to Refuge campaign which is calling on the Irish and UK governments to ensure that everyone has the right to refuge when their safety and dignity is threatened.
Colm Byrne is Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager.