UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says urgent assistance is needed to avert food crisis in northeast Nigeria as no fewer than 4.1 million people are at risk of severe food insecurity.
Mr Matthias Schmale, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria, on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, briefed Member States in Geneva, Switzerland, on the situation in the region.
The UN humanitarian agency, in a statement, noted the deteriorating situation affecting millions of people, mainly women and children in the northeast as the country entered the lean season.
Schmale described the deteriorating food security and nutrition situation as an issue that required immediate support.
“This food insecurity is felt painfully across the region, especially as operations are so desperately in need of funding.
“In Yobe State, families have not received food assistance for up to eight months. Some people are left without food for days not knowing where to get their next meal from,” he said.
Schmale appealed to the international community for immediate support to get aid to those who needed it most.
“I cannot emphasise enough, we need the resources today and not tomorrow,” he said.
The resident coordinator said people in this part of Nigeria were already extremely vulnerable after struggling through 12 years of conflict.
He said in 2022, 8.4 million people needed humanitarian assistance across Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states.
According to him, the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan aims to assist 5.5 million people in need, noting that it is a two-track process.
“The bulk of interventions focus on emergency assistance, but at same time our approach aims to lift people out of vulnerable situations and reduce humanitarian need by increasingly focusing on durable solutions and building resilience where possible,” he said.
In addition, Schmale noted that although Nigeria was a major oil producer, it lacked refineries, which meant that it had not benefited from the global surge in energy prices, linked to the war in Ukraine.
“It’s early days yet in terms of understanding the full impact, as you may know, in Nigeria from the beginning there was speculation as to whether Nigeria would benefit as an oil-producing country.
“We’re not seeing that in fact at all, because Nigeria, as contradictory as this may sound, depends very largely on imports of refined oil. So, the price rises we’ve seen are not benefiting Nigeria, that’s one concern,” he told journalists.
The UN official insisted that with time the country could feed itself and avoid ever costlier food imports, although at the moment, it lacked the infrastructure and agricultural investment required to be competitive at a global level.
“Of particular concern are the 1.74 million children under five who are expected to be suffer from acute malnutrition in the north-east in coming months.
“If we don’t get immediate funding soon for an initial multisector response plan worth $350 million, we will have a crisis that will be much worse in a couple of months.
“We hope that the international community realises that you ignore a situation like in the north-east of Nigeria at your own peril; it could have far-reaching consequences beyond the borders of Nigeria if we’re not able to keep it stable,” he said.
The March 2022 Cadre Harmonisé, a tool used to identify areas at risk from food insecurity and malnutrition in the Sahel and West Africa, projected that between June to September, 4.1 million people would be food insecure.
Among them, almost 600,000 people are projected to be at emergency levels (Phase 4), which is characterised by large food consumption gaps reflected in acute malnutrition and excess mortality.
This high-risk period, the lean season, overlaps with the rainy season, a time when children are left vulnerable from disease outbreaks, with weakened resistance if malnourished.
Malnutrition among children grows increasingly dangerous in the north-east.
Approximately 1.74 million children under five are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition across the north-east in 2022.
Of these, over 300,000 are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition and are at high risk of death if they do not receive urgent treatment.
A multi-sector response plan has been put in place by the UN and humanitarian partners to provide life-saving aid and prevent a potentially catastrophic food and nutrition situation.
The plan requires 351 million dollars and is part of the overall request of 1.1 billion dollars for the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan, which is severely under-funded at 19.6 per cent.
By Cecilia Ologunagba