Thou­sands of kids dy­ing in north­east Nige­ria, says sur­vey

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

LAGOS, NIGE­RIA: Thou­sands of chil­dren have died of star­va­tion and dis­ease in Boko Haram-rav­aged north­east­ern Nige­ria, Doc­tors With­out Borders said Tues­day quot­ing a new sur­vey that is forc­ing Nige­rian of­fi­cials to stop deny­ing the cri­sis.

The Paris-based or­ga­ni­za­tion hopes that of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion of the calamity in which “thou­sands are dy­ing” will help bring ur­gent aid be­fore older chil­dren also start dy­ing, Natalie Roberts, emer­gency pro­gram man­ager for north­east Nige­ria, told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

A sur­vey of two refugee camps in the north­east­ern city of Maiduguri shows a quar­ter of the ex­pected pop­u­la­tion of un­der-5 chil­dren is miss­ing, as­sumed dead, ac­cord­ing to the or­ga­ni­za­tion. Un­der-5 mor­tal­ity rates in the camps are more than dou­ble the thresh­old for declar­ing an emer­gency, Roberts said in a phone in­ter­view from Paris.

Speak­ing on her re­turn from north­east­ern Borno state, the birth­place of Boko Haram’s Is­lamic up­ris­ing, she said the ab­sence of young chil­dren was strik­ing. “We only saw older brothers and sis­ters. No tod­dlers are strad­dling their big sis­ters’ hips. No ba­bies strapped to their mums’ backs. It’s as if they have just van­ished,” Roberts said.

Sound­ing the alarm

Doc­tors With­out Borders first sounded the alarm in June but senior of­fi­cials of the Na­tional Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency man­ag­ing the camps as late as Septem­ber de­nied any child was suf­fer­ing mal­nu­tri­tion and ac­cused the doc­tors of ex­ag­ger­at­ing the cri­sis to at­tract do­na­tions. That was after The As­so­ci­ated Press pub­lished im­ages of match­stick-thin chil­dren fight­ing for their lives at an in­ten­sive feed­ing cen­ter in Maiduguri, run by the France-based med­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion, also known as Medecins Sans Fron­tieres, or MSF.

The cri­sis is ag­gra­vated by al­leged theft of food aid by emer­gency man­age­ment of­fi­cials be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by Nige­ria’s sen­ate. “The dif­fer­ence now is that our fig­ures have been checked by the statis­ti­cian gen­eral, and we have of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion from the govern­ment that they be­lieve this is hap­pen­ing,” Roberts said.

An es­ti­mated 75,000 chil­dren could die within a year be­cause donors have pro­vided only one-third of re­quested funding and twice as much, $1 bil­lion, is needed for the rest of the year and into 2017, says the United Na­tions.

A vi­tal funding con­fer­ence in Geneva next month could save the day, other­wise “it won’t be long be­fore we could be in the painful po­si­tion of hav­ing to turn away sick and starv­ing chil­dren,” says the US-based Save the Chil­dren.

Some 2.6 mil­lion peo­ple in­clud­ing more than 1 mil­lion chil­dren have been driven from their homes by Nige­ria’s 7-year-old in­sur­gency that has killed more than 20,000 peo­ple, left food-pro­duc­ing fields fal­low, dis­rupted trade routes and de­stroyed wells, bridges and en­tire towns.

Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari last month set up a pres­i­den­tial com­mit­tee to co­or­di­nate aid and the re­build­ing of the north­east, even as an end to the rainy sea­son has brought a pre­dictable up­surge in at­tacks on mil­i­tary out­posts and ur­ban sui­cide bomb­ings by the Is­lamic ex­trem­ists.

Buhari and Nige­ria’s mil­i­tary have said aerial bom­bard­ments and a ground of­fen­sive that have forced the in­sur­gents out of most towns has the ex­trem­ists on the run. But aid agen­cies say they can barely ven­ture out­side Maiduguri for fear of at­tack and are us­ing heli­copters to reach dan­ger­ous ar­eas.

— AP

MAIDUGURI, NIGE­RIA: In this Mon­day, Aug. 29, 2016, file photo, a mal­nour­ished child is weighed on a scale at a clinic run by Doc­tors With­out Borders.

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