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Northeast Nigeria on the Brink of Catastrophic Food Insecurity, UN Warns

United Nations has raised the alarm that Nigeria’s North East is on the brink of catastrophic food insecurity as 4.4 million people in the area expected to face food critical shortages.

A statement on Thursday by United States Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) said: “In north-east Nigeria, the outlook is dire. Without sustained humanitarian assistance in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states, millions will struggle to feed themselves during this critical 2021 lean season.”

The statement relying on the March 2021 Cadre Harmonisé food security assessment, lamented that an estimated 4.4 million people, including internally displaced people, are expected to face critical food shortages. Some 775,000 people are at extreme risk of catastrophic food insecurity—the worst outlook in four years.

The statement added that the humanitarian community, the United Nations and non-governmental organisations, have joined efforts to address the rapidly deteriorating food insecurity situation in the northeast, working closely with the Government of Nigeria at federal and state levels.

The statement quoted the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria, Edward Kallon to have said: “The humanitarian community is deeply concerned by the alarming food insecurity in north-east Nigeria. Levels of food insecurity today are similar to 2016-17, when the crisis was at its worst. The U.N. and its non-governmental partners are working with the Government to respond to this growing threat of catastrophic food insecurity,”.

He added that: “Women in affected communities have shared stories of sleepless children who cry through the night due to hunger.”

He lamented that conditions for some households are so desperate that families are living on nutritional supplements meant to ensure the survival of their children. The nutrition situation is at risk of deteriorating to critical levels due to persistent and poor underlying conditions, including inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene and limited health access.

He also decried that the situation may likely worsen during the rainy season if diseases like cholera and malaria are not prevented or controlled.

According to the statement, the insecurity plaguing north-east Nigeria, intense rains, flash flooding and periods of drought are some factors preventing farmers from accessing their fields and growing crops. They are doubly impacted by the food insecurity, not only losing their ability to grow food they need to feed their families but also suffering the loss of income from not being able to yield a harvest.

Solving food insecurity must be approached as a long-term effort that requires enabling people to have livelihoods through agriculture, and supporting them through capital and agricultural inputs.

The worst affected during the lean season are women and children. A considerable percentage of the affected people are female-headed households, who depend on farming to provide for their families. They are facing the impossible dilemma of needing to earn a living while simultaneously placing themselves at risk of sexual violence by collecting firewood or going to the open fields for farming activities—areas that are well outside the relative safety and protection of their communities.

Kallon decried that: “Parents are taking their children out of school to beg in order to survive. This exposes children, especially girls to the risk of trafficking, rape, and sexual harassment,” adding that: “Women have shared that they resort to eating grass.” This illustrates the levels of desperation early in the lean season. Domestic and sexual violence is on the rise, as men struggle to provide for their families, taking their frustrations out on the family. Women and young girls are also forced into child labour, child marriage and transactional sex for food and survival.

“The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation has also deepened vulnerabilities. In addition to losing livelihoods, people have had to cope with decimation of their incomes and increased food prices. For many people across the Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states, they can no longer afford to buy food.

“We have been able to avert catastrophic food insecurity in the past by working together, and we can do it again given the resources required. We are grateful to our donors and partners for their generous support. Our operational plan sets out the requirement of USD$250 million for immediate action. We desperately need the funding now to urgently save lives.”

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