22 August 2020 – Amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, conflict and hunger are expected to spike in north-east Nigeria. The humanitarian community in Nigeria has called for urgent support, as the number of people in need of life-saving aid has risen steeply in the north-east of the country.
At the same time people’s living conditions and the security situation have significantly deteriorated since the beginning of the year. Speaking at an online high-level briefing on 13 August, the United Nations resident and humanitarian coordinator, Edward Kallon, joined by the minister of humanitarian affairs, disaster management and social development, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq and Borno State governor, Prof Babagana Zulum, as well as other UN and NGO representatives, stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates the dire humanitarian situation in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states, and risks wreaking havoc on the most vulnerable population.
“The number of people needing humanitarian assistance is the highest ever recorded in five years of a joint humanitarian response,” said Kallon. “The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting us all. Its devastating effects will distress Nigeria’s most fragile region. Unless we take immediate action, we should prepare for a spike in conflict, hunger and destitution in north-east Nigeria.”
The ongoing conflict in north-east Nigeria – now in its eleventh year – and the upsurge in violence witnessed over the past year in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states, have deepened humanitarian needs. More than 10.6 million people – out of a total of 13 million, or four in five people – will need some form of humanitarian assistance in 2020. This is close to a 50% increase in people in need since last year, mainly from increasing violence and insecurity further compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We are concerned about conflict-affected communities who already face severe hunger and are vulnerable to the socio-economic fallout from the pandemic,” said Paul Howe, representative and country director of the World Food Programme. “They are on life support and need assistance to survive.”
Though humanitarian organisations are providing food assistance to over 2.5 million people, the food security situation has gradually worsened over the past three years. In an area where famine was averted only a few years ago and where millions are still struggling day by day to find their next meal, the steep rise in prices and movement restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic are an insufferable shock. Up to 4.3 million people could now be facing hunger.
“Accessing the most vulnerable communities has become more challenging even for us as national organisations,” explained Ambassador Ahmed Shehu, chairman of the North-East Civil Society Forum. “Many of our colleagues have lost their lives in the service to humanity. We are urging the international community to support the north-east. It is important we all come together to assist people in need and work even closer together, especially with local actors.”
“Needs are increasing, and our work has become ever more challenging,” said Charles Usie, country director of Christian Aid, representing the international NGOs. “Since late 2019, there are almost no roads in Borno and Yobe states that humanitarians can travel on. With the upsurge in violent attacks by non-state armed groups, humanitarian workers and the aid they deliver are increasingly at risk.”
Over the past year, 15 aid workers were killed in wanton violence by non-state armed groups, greatly affecting the ability for international and Nigerian organisations and the government to provide life-saving assistance. Despite challenges, the humanitarian community remains committed to support the people of Nigeria who are desperately in need of assistance. UN and NGO partners have already come to the aid of more than 2.6 million people since the beginning of this year.
As needs are increasing, UN and partner NGOs have reviewed their collective appeal and the budget required to provide urgent aid to 7.8 million people who are amongst the most vulnerable. The requirement now stands at USD1.08-billion. Whilst needs are rapidly increasing, funding is however at a historic low. With only five months left until the end of the year, aid organisations have received less than a third of the required amount, amounting to less than 30% for each person in need for the whole year.
“We know that many of our donors are facing extraordinary economic and social challenges at home as a result of the pandemic, that will require vast resources,” said Kallon. “Now is the time for all of us to step up for the most vulnerable and demonstrate our solidarity amid the greatest global challenge of our times. Together we have already changed the course of history in north-east Nigeria for the better and we can do so once again.”
Since 2015, UN agencies and international NGOs have been working in north-east Nigeria in coordination with the Nigerian government, to provide life-saving assistance to those affected by the crisis that has ravaged entire communities in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states. In 2019, humanitarian organisations provided support to more than 5.2 million people. Over 4 million of them received emergency health treatment or support, 2.4 million benefited from food assistance; and, each day, aid workers saved the lives of over 650 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition.
The article was first published by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs