Up to 75,000 children could die from famine-like conditions in Nigeria in next year, the United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF, said on Thursday.
The severity of malnutrition levels and high number of children facing death make the humanitarian crisis confronting northeastern Nigeria perhaps the worst in the world, according to Arjan de Wagt, nutrition chief for UNICEF in Nigeria. He said children already are dying but donors are not responding.
“The 75,000 is from the three states – Borno, Yobe and Adamawa,” said UNICEF spokesman Patrick Rose, in an emailed response to questions, referring to the number of children in those areas who could die over the next year.
The agency has said 400,000 children aged under five would suffer from severe acute malnutrition in those states, which have been worst hit by the insurgency, and more than four million people faced severe food shortages in the region.
Some 15,000 people have been killed and more than two million displaced during a seven-year insurgency by the Islamist militant group that has been pushed back to its stronghold in the northeast’s vast Sambisa forest in the last few months.
The U.N. has called for military escorts for aid workers trying to reach areas affected by the crisis, which has been exacerbated by soaring food prices and scarce reserves from the last harvest.
The UN Agency on Thursday doubled the amount of its appeal for Nigeria, saying $115 million is needed to save children whose “lives are literally hanging by a thread.” Only $24 million has been raised so far, the agency said.
The lack of money has meant some 750,000 people living in accessible areas could not be helped this year, spokeswoman Doune Porter said.
Most of the estimated 2.6 million people who fled Boko Haram’s insurgency are subsistence farmers who have been unable to plant for two years or more.
Several thousand people returned this month from refugee camps to towns being secured by Nigeria’s military, but it’s too late to plant as the rainy season draws to an end. Meanwhile, Boko Haram still attacks outside urban areas.
Of 4 million people in desperate need of food are about 2.2 million people trapped in areas where Boko Haram is operating or in newly liberated areas that still are too dangerous to reach by road, de Wagt said. Among them, 65,000 are living in famine-like conditions.
The crisis has reached “catastrophic levels” for people who have sought refuge in towns controlled by the military but who are “entirely reliant on outside aid that does not reach them,” aid group Doctors Without Borders said Wednesday.
“Many families are only able to eat once every few days and usually only watered-down porridge,” said Oxfam aid group spokeswoman Christina Corbett. “They are going to bed hungry and waking up with no way to change that.”
UNICEF limited its outreach to the region after Boko Haram fighters attacked a military-escorted humanitarian convoy in July, wounding a UNICEF worker and others when a rocket hit an armored car.
Doctors Without Borders, also known by the French acronym MSF, said the highest levels of starving children are in camps in Maiduguri, the northeastern city free of conflict where aid workers have been active for two years.
MSF said Nigerian authorities are responsible for ensuring aid is delivered and described the overall aid response as “massively insufficient, uncoordinated and ill-adapted.”