Negligence Escalates Hunger Crisis in Northwest Nigeria, Aid Group Says

Abuja, Nigeria — The medical aid group Doctors Without Borders said this week that Nigeria’s northwest region is experiencing “catastrophic” levels of malnutrition and disease outbreaks as it copes with a decline in humanitarian support.

The aid group, known by its French initials MSF, said that while heavy conflict continues to affect both the northeast and northwest regions of Nigeria, the humanitarian needs of the northwest have yet to be met under the national response plan.

In a media statement, MSF said that the region has more than 500,000 cases of severe acute malnutrition and that 854 children admitted to its facilities last year died within 48 hours of their arrival.

MSF blamed the failure of authorities and donor partners to formally recognize the crisis in the northwest for delaying a much-needed response.

Abdullahi Mohammed Ali, the head of MSF’s Nigeria mission, said the aid group has been raising the alarm for a few years.

“But the region has never been included in the U.N. humanitarian response plan,” Ali said. “We’re deeply concerned given the seriousness of the humanitarian crisis in this region — a home to around 50 million people. The levels of malnutrition and outbreak of diseases are catastrophic in the context of persistent and relentless violence.”

Northwest Nigeria has been plagued by armed gangs of bandits who often kill, loot and take hostages. MSF said that last year alone, more than 2,000 people were killed in hundreds of reported attacks.

But humanitarian aid groups have largely focused their attention on the northeast, site of the long-running Boko Haram insurgency, where Nigerian forces are stepping up attacks against the Islamist militant groups.

Ali said the situation improved briefly in the northwest last year.

“We saw a little improvement in 2023, with a few actors mobilizing to provide support to vulnerable people,” he said, “but this is far from being enough, and medical aid is just a drop in the ocean.

“We would like to see a collective and concerted strategy by both the humanitarian community and the Nigerian government in order to scale up the humanitarian response plan,” Ali said.

MSF said it treated 170,000 children in the northwestern states of Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina and Kano last year for severe acute malnutrition — a 14% rise compared with the previous year.

Nigeria’s humanitarian affairs ministry did not respond to calls for comment.

An official who did not want to be named said the investigation of the humanitarian affairs minister, Betta Edu, has affected planned responses to humanitarian emergencies. President Bola Tinubu suspended Edu in January over alleged misappropriation of public funds. On Wednesday, Nigeria’s parliament asked the president to hasten the suspended minister’s probe.

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