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Nigeria: UN warns millions facing severe hunger

June 28, 2023

A conflict between the army and jihadist groups has been raging in the country for 14 years, displacing thousands of people and leaving millions at risk of severe acute malnutrition.

Malnourished children get medical treatment at the Feeding Center
Around 700,000 children aged under five are at the risk of severe acute malnutrition in northeastern NigeriaImage: Adam Abu-bashal/AA/picture alliance

The United Nations said Wednesday it was "ringing the alarm" on the humanitarian situation in conflict-torn northeastern Nigeria, warning that approximately 6 million people there are in need of assistance.

The UN said that the number of people requiring help in the region is sharply increasing. 

"We must act fast to prevent the situation in the northeast of Nigeria from becoming even more catastrophic," Matthias Schmale, the UN humanitarian coordinator, said. 

Addressing a press conference in Geneva, he warned that around 4.3 million people were facing severe hunger in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, the three main states of northeastern Nigeria. 

A bloody conflict between the army and jihadist groups, including Boko Haram, has been raging in the country since 2009.

It is estimated that more than 40,000 people have been killed and 2 million more displaced, marking one of the worst humanitarian crises of the 21st century. 

A boy rides a bicycle in Maidugiri, the capital of Borneo state.
The humanitarian and security situation in northeastern Nigeria is deteriorating, says the UNImage: Florian Gaertner/photothek/IMAGO

Nigerian children suffering from severe malnutrition

"More than 500,000 people are facing emergency levels of food insecurity: one step away from famine. We are ringing the alarm bell," Schmale said.

He added that around 700,000 children aged under five are at risk of severe acute malnutrition, which is four times more than in 2021.

"I have seen mothers fighting for the lives of their malnourished babies in health centers," Schmale said.

Nigeria's malnourished children

"We are really running out of the necessary supplies," said Cristian Munduate, the Nigeria representative of UN children's agency UNICEF.

What's happening in northeastern Nigeria?

Nigeria is home to more than 250 ethnic groups. The north is mostly inhabited by Muslims, while the south is mainly Christian.

The security situation in the country's northeast has reportedly been deteriorating for years. Terrorist attacks are regularly carried out by Islamic groups such as Boko Haram and the rival Islamic State West Africa Province. 

Schmale said the humanitarian situation was being exacerbated by the climate and food security crises, as well as rising food, fuel and fertilizer prices.

"The way to end this is not just reaching a peace agreement, ending the conflict, but actually addressing the underlying development crisis," Schmale noted.

ara/nm (AFP, EFE)