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Escalating Humanitarian Crisis And Apprehension Over Food Insecurity

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CHIKA OKEKE examines the level of humanitarian crisis in the north- east and reports that without harmonised intervention, famine might wipe out surviving locals and residents

Hajiya Aishatu Ibrahim (not real name) is a native of Hirdembeh in Gwoza local government area of Borno State.

The village including Agapalawa, Amuda, Arbako, Ashigashiya, Attagara, Barderi, Barawa, Cineni, Cikide, Gava, Guduf and among others in Gwoza still controlled by Boko Haram have suffered both human and material losses since the nine-year conflict in the north-east.

Ibrahim said that she lost her husband, two children, house and farmland through one of the massive attacks in Gwoza.

She noted that insurgency triggered uncontrolled humanitarian crisis in the region, adding that the natives were currently experiencing famine despite assurance from the state government of massive food supply.

Ibrahim further lamented that in some villages in Borno, that the surviving natives were not up to 20 persons even as she questioned the veracity of federal government in decimating the insurgents as claimed by the military.

Ibrahim’s tight spot is one out of over 200, 000 residents in Gwoza taunted by the activities of insurgents from 2009 till date, before spilling over to neighbouring countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

A survey conducted by NOIPolls, an indigenous public opinion polling and research institution in north-east states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe known on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the region between July 4 to July 29, 2016 revealed that about 85 per cent of IDPs did not have access to adequate food.

Further findings indicated that about 99 per cent of IDPs in Borno and 87 per cent in Yobe lacked access to food, which corroborated United Nations investigation that about 7.7 million people in the states mentioned above needed humanitarian assistance.

The coordinated attacks which led to the death of over 30, 000 people, forced millions to take refuge in IDPs camps, thereby leading to rural-urban migration, endemic poverty and crippled socio-economic development in the region.

As crisis the deepened, state governments leveraged on the plights of IDPs to siphon and empty the states’ treasury with heightened cases of diversion of relief materials donated by international and indigenous non-governmental organisations, individuals and groups.

Scarcity of food leading to death, high mortality rate, stunted children, sex trade, illicit drugs consumption, forced labour and prostitution also intensified at the camps, according to findings by LEADERSHIP.

The governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima, had disclosed in 2016 that the state spends about N650million monthly on IDPs adding that the IDPs were consuming 1,800 bags of rice daily.

The Borno State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) also hinted that it was distributing 900 bags of rice to IDPs weekly, a situation that elicited damning responses from Nigerians.

Worried by the plight of residents and locals in the affected states, experts have raised the alarm that the humanitarian crisis triggered food insecurity across the country.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) revealed that over 3 million people in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe known as BAY states experienced food insecurity in June to August 2018.

The head of communications UN OCHA, Ms Samantha Newport, noted that without maintained and expanded humanitarian food and livelihood assistance in the affected states, that the crisis would be more severe.

She said that the number of people facing acute food insecurity in the north-east had significantly reduced over the past years due to favourable climatic conditions for farming.

Newport further linked the improvement to the delivery of food aid and livelihood support and improved security conditions, which facilitated farming activities in some locations that were previously less accessible and for an upturn in market activity.

She stated that the north- east humanitarian crisis which spilled over into the lake chad region, was one of the most severe in the world today as over 7.7 million people needed humanitarian assistance this year in the BAY states.

Newport described the insecurity as a protection crisis, regretting that civilians continued to bear the brunt of a conflict that has led to widespread and forced displacement, abuse, and violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.

Newport added, “These protection risks are closely linked to food scarcity and insecurity and high levels of need for basic life-saving assistance and services.”

She emphasised that the UN through the Nigeria Humanitarian Fund (NHF) allocated $9 million to provide life-saving aid to about 60,000 children, women and men recently displaced by ongoing hostilities in Borno State, including $2 million in support of the UN humanitarian air service for frontline responders in north-east Nigeria.

On recruitment of school children and underage as suicide bombers, she advocated the need for a holistic approach that would include addressing the huge development and infrastructure deficits in the region, investing in education, reducing unemployment rates especially among youths and women, as well as addressing social injustice.

Newport hinted that more than 130 girls were used as suicide bombers by armed groups in 2017, saying that girl-child education should be prioritised to reduce their vulnerability.

She however suggested for a social investment and livelihood programmes that would productively engage the youths.

Lending his voice, a board member of NINGONET, a non-governmental organisation, Mr Tim Aniebonam, expressed fears that the current humanitarian crisis have had a devastating impact on food security across the country.

To this end, he noted that though federal government was moving the country out of a mono economy that depended on oil to an agricultural- based economy that the activities of alleged herdsmen and kidnappers would cripple the ambition.

He lamented that farmers had shunned farming since most of the attacks started in the farms.

The humanitarian expert pointed out that the carnage done by herdsmen should be drastically reduced stressing that Nigeria was losing the war on insecurity with the continued spread of crisis across the country.

He regretted that cattle rustling menace in the north-east had impacted negatively on the agriculture sector, adding that most of the policies introduced by previous governments were abandoned by successive government.

According to him, “There are lots of policy inconsistency and non is fully implemented while Nigeria churn out policies at the spur of the moment.”

He emphasised that the restoration of lake chad was impossible without crippling insurgency in the neighbouring communities adding that issues bordering on lake chad was beyond Nigeria.

“The 90 per cent shrinking of lake chad over the last decades is adversely affecting the agricultural livelihood of about 5 million Nigerians and Chadians already battered by insurgency,” he said.

The expert wondered why several countries have refused to make the needed commitments to reactivate and rehabilitate Lake Chad which he said worsened with the over 10 years activities of Boko Haram.

“As it is now, no contractor is favourably disposed to be engaged to work around Lake Chad even if the resources are available and that is the major crisis we are having,” he said.

He recalled the kidnap of two expatriates hired to install wind energy project in Katsina despite the huge sums of money invested in the project by the foreigners.

Aniebonam was emphatic that no business would thrive without security, adding that farmers could no longer go to farms due to the escalating killings by herdsmen.

He noted that for contractors to work on Lake Chad because of its potentials to boost agriculture, fishing and other activities in Nigeria and beyond, that there is the need for the presence of heavily armed security personnel which he said was lacking in the region.

The expert regretted that government was handling issues bordering on insecurity with levity.

In her contribution, a member of Adinya Arise Foundation, Mrs Mabel Ade, stated that issues bordering on food security extended beyond Lake Chad basin saying that the hub of agriculture was under the threat of killer herdsmen despite the challenges of food security in Nigeria and West Africa.

She regretted that Nigerians  were harvesting food destroyed in farms, saying that others displaced from their homes could not prepare the lands for the farming season.

Ade revealed that in addition to food insecurity posed by Lake Chad basin that Nigeria was experiencing worst challenges with food basket of the nation.

She stated that neighbouring states including fishing communities were living under the fear of unknown within their environment.

“Livelihoods are affected and this means that there will be scarcity and high cost of food; we will not be able to export the little we have been exporting because we will consume what we have,” she added.

Ade maintained that the shortage would shrink the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Federal government has however linked the herdsmen/ farmers’ clashes to environmental degradation rather than ethnic or religious crisis.

At a mini-town hall meeting organised for the staff of the Nigerian Embassy in Berlin, Germany, the minister of information and culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, promised that federal government was committed to finding a lasting solution to the clashes

Mohammed stated that while Nigeria’s population was about 48 million in 1963 that it rose to 180 million, with the country’s land mass remaining the same.

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