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Five things you need to know about the humanitarian situation in north-east Nigeria

12 Aug 2020

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A young girl living in the registration centre in Pulka, Borno State, Nigeria, attempts to make a fire for cooking. Children in the centre are living in overcrowded conditions due to lack of shelters to accommodate the number of people entering the camp. Credit: OCHA/Leni Kinzli 

Despite considerable achievements by aid organizations over the past years, the humanitarian situation in Nigeria remains one of the largest crises in the world today. The ongoing conflict in north-east Nigeria, now entering its eleventh year, and the upsurge in violent attacks over the past year in the crisis-affected states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe have deepened humanitarian needs. The COVID-19 pandemic is further exacerbating the situation and risks wreaking havoc on the most vulnerable population. Here are five things you need to know about the humanitarian situation in the country:

1. A compounded health emergency

Urgent assistance is needed to curtail the spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria – the most populous country in Africa – especially in overcrowded camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). The humanitarian community is deeply concerned about the impact the pandemic will have on fragile conflict areas where health systems are weaker and populations highly vulnerable.

Community mobilizers explain to an internally displaced woman how to wash hands. Such an everyday gesture may seem simple to be protected from the deadly coronavirus, however for hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people, finding water is a luxury. Credit: IOM/Nigeria

Further spread of COVID-19 infections in IDP camps or camp-like settings or crisis-affected host communities would exacerbate their current vulnerability, with further risks for the most vulnerable population groups, such as women, elderly and people with chronic medical conditions or children at risk of malnutrition.

2. Devastating impact on civilians

At least 10.6 million people are now in need of life-saving assistance in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe (BAY) states – the highest level recorded since the beginning of the coordinated humanitarian response in 2015. The number of people in need had increased from 7.1 million people in 2019 to 7.9 million people at the beginning of 2020. That figure is now higher because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

At the same time, more than 40 per cent of health facilities in those three states have been damaged or destroyed as a result of the protracted conflict.

3. Untenable camp congestion

Some 1.9 million people remain internally displaced in the worst-affected BAY states, many of them living in dire conditions. With the upsurge in violence and new waves of displacements in the first half of the year, nearly 60,000 people were forced to flee their homes, some for the second or third time.

These women walked over two hours with their babies to reach the clinic in Pulka in Borno State, Nigeria, and find basic health assistance for their children. OCHA/Eve Sabbagh

More than 24,000 people are sleeping out in the open, and four out of five people living in camps are in overcrowded conditions with makeshift and temporary shelters built in close proximity to each other, making physical distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 impossible.

4. Challenged access in an insecure environment

In supporting the fight against COVID-19, UNICEF, with support from the European Union in Nigeria and IHS Nigeria, donated health supplies to the Nigerian Government to support the COVID-19 response plan and UNICEF’s work with children and families in the country. Credit: UNICEF

Amid the growing threat of COVID-19 reaching remote and underserved communities in north-east Nigeria, humanitarians face severe challenges in reaching people who are most in need. As humanitarian needs are likely to increase, greater demand will be exerted on humanitarian staff and cargo. However, cargo movements throughout the BAY states are suffering long delays.

5. A future at risk

About 80 per cent of the people in need of humanitarian assistance across the BAY states are women and children. For children in particular, the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting their education and mental health. The risks of exploitation and abuse are higher than ever, for boys and girls.

The humanitarian community is supporting authorities and local communities in preparing for the reopening of schools and education in emergency activities wherever possible. Coordinated actions and financial support will be needed to ensure continued and inclusive learning and, whenever possible, a safe return to education in emergencies for learners and teachers, particularly for those most vulnerable.

The extent of humanitarian needs in Nigeria is immense. The Humanitarian Country Team is calling on all partners to reinforce joint efforts and reduce long-term effects that could jeopardize recovery, resilience and stabilization achievements and progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

The United Nations and partner non-governmental organizations are collectively appealing for US$1.08 billion to provide urgent aid to 7.8 million of the most vulnerable people in Nigeria. The funding needed is less than $12 a month to save someone’s life. Five months to the end of the year, aid organizations have received less than one third of the funding necessary to provide life-saving assistance to those who desperately need it.