Nigeria continues to suffer from extremely high rates of malnutrition and remains the poorest country in the region

Borno State: caught between conflict and development

Léa Vollet, our colleague in France, reports from north-east Nigeria where violence has left nearly 2.9 million people on the brink.

By Action Against Hunger

May 23 2019

While Nigeria is the second largest economic power in Africa, more than 60% of its population lives below the poverty line.

In the north-east of the country, conflict between the government security forces and insurgent groups such as Boko Haram have killed almost 27,000 people in the last nine years. Nearly 2 million people have been displaced in the states of Borno, Yobo and Adawana, where they have declared a state of emergency.

When I arrived in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, a news alert on my phone told me that an armed group in the north-east of the country had murdered twelve farmers in their fields. This happened twenty kilometres away from Maiduguri, Borno state, where I was heading to meet Action Against Hunger’s team.

When I arrived in Maiduguri, I joined the team’s daily safety briefing led by Ahmed, our chief of security in the region. We hear reports of multiple attacks in camps for displaced people near Monguno – a nearby town in Borno state where our programmes are helping to support families displaced by violence in the region.

“The review of the security situation is not about sharing stories. Under no circumstances should you allow security procedures to become boring for you,” Ahmed, reminds us at the end.

“Borno is becoming a high-risk environment for humanitarian workers.”

In October 2018, insurgent groups executed two International Red Cross aid workers. With the recent increase in violence, it's too dangerous to visit Monguno.

The outskirts of Monguno, Borno state, Nigeria. Conflict and violence has led to people experiencing hunger in the region.

ACCESSING THE MOST REMOTE AREAS

Monguno is a town that is protected by the military. There are only two ways to get there – passing through multiple roadside checkpoints with the right travel permissions or on a limited number of United Nations helicopter flights.

Many people have arrived in the town after fleeing violence from Boko Haram. Some refugees have come from areas that are still inaccessible to humanitarian agencies.

Even after getting there, the situation is unstable. There is no mobile phone network and it's very difficult to bring in necessities such as fuel and medicine. Prices are massively inflated. At the same time, the needs of the local population are huge, as many have taken shelter in formal or informal camps.

Getting food in Monguno is not easy. Most people rely on agriculture, but the security measures put in place by the army don’t allow people to farm more than three miles away from the city. Under these conditions, it’s almost impossible for people to support their families – either through growing their own food and growing produce to sell at the market.

“I remember one of my visits to Monguno,” says Anthony, Action Against Hunger’s coordinator in Borno state. “I spoke to one of our community mobilisers, who clearly expressed the desperate needs of a two-year-old child who was suffering from malnutrition. He had just returned from an area that recently became under the control of the Nigerian Army and needed basic food.”

“With more resources, we would be able to reach more children and give those children who have been affected by this conflict an opportunity and a future. And they can be tomorrow’s teachers, doctors and nurses in Nigeria.”

A group of men and boys outside Monguno, Borno state, Nigeria. Conflict has led to an increase of hunger in the region.

INTERVENING DESPITE INSECURITY

Despite the security concerns, Action Against Hunger was still able to support more than 4.8 million people in Nigeria in 2017 with humanitarian aid.

“We have set up cash support for 11,890 families in Monguno. They receive 25,000 naira per month [roughly £50 sterling], which is cost of an average food basket,” says Titus, Action Against Hunger’s Food Security and Livelihood Officer in Borno state.

“We give them food vouchers, which allows them to buy food from specific stores that meet our selection criteria.”

We’re also helping displaced people in the region fight hunger with our food security and livelihoods programmes, and improving access to clean water, safe toilets and decent hygiene.

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Images: Lea Vollet/Action Contre la Faim