Crisis in West Africa threatens millions

Millions displaced by conflict in Nigeria are seeking shelter wherever they can, and struggling to find enough food to survive. Photo: Ibrahim Dung/Oxfam

Conflict leading to food shortages creates serious humanitarian crisis in Nigeria, Lake Chad area. 

When Boko Haram attacked her Nigerian village and killed her husband three years ago, Sarah Isa and her six children immediately fled into the forest, without even stopping long enough to bury her husband’s body. Isa (not her real name) and her children wandered for a month, scavenging for food and water as best they could, before arriving in a village where the family found a room to rent.

They earn money by selling drinking water in the streets of the town and begging for handouts, but can’t quite find enough to buy food and pay their rent. “I don’t like seeing my children go hungry,” Isa says. “All I want is food.”

Isa and her family aren’t the only ones struggling to find enough food to eat in northeastern Nigeria right now. A joint analysis released by the Nigerian government and other UN partners in late August estimates that there are more than 4 million people facing severe food shortages, including more than 65,000 in famine conditions in areas of the northeast that are only just now accessible to the Nigerian government forces fighting Boko Haram, as well as areas that are not currently accessible to the government and aid organizations.

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This largely unknown humanitarian crisis is also affecting neighboring Niger, Cameroon, and Chad, where people fleeing violence are seeking shelter. Oxfam and UN agencies estimate that 2.7 million people have fled their homes, and as many as 9 million are in need of humanitarian assistance.

The conflict between Boko Haram and governments in this region has affected some of the poorest people in the world. Most of them in rural areas are farmers, and many like Sarah Isa have not been able to grow any crops for three years. They are in urgent need of food, water, and medical care. They are living in camps for displaced people and among host communities and are struggling to survive.

The situation is dire across this region: The UN estimates that 49,000 children – out of 244,000 suffering from acute malnutrition -- will die this year if they do not receive treatment, just in Nigeria’s Borno state.  

Sarah Isa, 50, fled her village with her six children three years ago after Boko Haram fighters killed her husband. She is now struggling to find enough food for the family. Like many farmers displaced by the conflict, she has not been able to grow any crops since fleeing her village. Photo: Ibrahim Dung/Oxfam

Humanitarian Response

Oxfam has helped more than 250,000 people since it began responding to the crisis two years ago. The agency is ramping up its program and is seeking funds to expand its response to help 1.5 million people in the next 15 months.

Nigeria: Oxfam is helping displaced people with emergency food and basic nutrition support, clean water, and sanitation, including building bathing facilities and repairing toilets. Oxfam is distributing food and cooking equipment, and in some areas providing seeds and tools to help traders and farmers returning to their home communities get back on their feet.

Niger: The UN estimates 460,000 people are affected by the conflict with Boko Haram, many of them having fled neighboring Borno state in Nigeria. Oxfam has installed clean water systems, distributed cooking pots, buckets to store clean water, and water purification tablets. This program has reached an estimated 31,400 people so far.

Chad: Oxfam is just now starting to respond in Chad, and intends to assist more than 30,000 people with tarpaulins for shelter, cash, and clean water.

Oxfam is urgently seeking funds for this emergency response as it currently has only a small percentage of the budget needed to cover its intended program.

Oxfam is looking for the first possible opportunity to help farmers returning home to start growing their own food again. This is what Sarah Isa also wants to do: “I am ready to go back home today if the government assures us on security, we can farm our food because we have our farms there.”

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