Nigeria military advances uncover vast humanitarian needs
Gains against Boko Haram expose catastrophic levels of suffering for hundreds of thousands of people, many beyond humanitarian reach for months or years.
GENEVA – Gains made by a military campaign against Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria have in recent weeks exposed catastrophic levels of suffering among the population of the area, many of whom have been out of reach of humanitarian help for months or years, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency warned today.
The push by Nigerian Government forces in cooperation with the Multi-National Joint Task Force has rolled back gains by the militants, whose insurgency has displaced more than 1.8 million people within Nigeria since 2009.
“At present, and with the military campaign still in progress, the situation is shifting and remains dangerous and volatile,” UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards told a news briefing in Geneva on Friday (August 19).
“There have been frequent hit and run incidents by militants, including suicide bombings, attacks on civilians, torching of homes, and thefts of livestock,” he added.
“The level of peril and difficulty in delivering life-saving help is high, as are the costs."
Edwards said that a UN convoy was attacked with an improvised explosive device and gunfire on July 27, resulting in injuries to three aid workers as well as members of the military escort. He stressed that “the level of peril and difficulty in delivering life-saving help is high – as, by consequence, are the costs.”
While many areas are still beyond the reach of aid workers, Edwards said that in Borno and Yobe States, the picture of suffering is “shocking.”
“There are numerous reports of human rights violations, including deaths, sexual violence, disappearances, forced recruitment, forced religious conversions, and attacks on civilian sites.”
Some 800,000 additional internally displaced people have been identified as needing help. Severe malnutrition on a wide scale is being reported, and the needs are growing with each day. In Borno State 51,474 people are on UNHCR’s critically vulnerable list, 21,912 of these being children – more than three quarters of whom have lost one or both parents.
An additional displacement complication has arisen from the knock-on effect of the military activity and the resulting further spread of insecurity to the north and west across the borders and into parts of Cameroon, Chad and Niger. The violent attacks against military personnel in Bosso town, Diffa, on June 3, resulted in the worst displacement there since the beginning of the crisis in 2013.
Amid this, some 106,000 Nigerian refugees have been pressed back into Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states, becoming new internally displaced people in the process, in need of reception, registration and other protection help, plus shelter, psycho-social support and material assistance.
Edwards said UNHCR is responding by scaling its operations up. The immediate focus is on the needs of some 488,000 highly vulnerable people in critical condition and now concentrated in ten newly liberated Local Government Areas in Borno State, plus the needs of the returned refugees.
UNHCR teams together with other UN agencies, the Nigerian government and NGO partners took advantage of a narrow and recently opened corridor to coordinate rapid joint needs and protection assessments in Damboa, Dikwa and several other areas in May and June.
More recently, UNHCR has been able to assess humanitarian needs in Bama – Borno’s largest city, after the capital Maiduguri -- with a pre-insurgency population of 350,000. There are no civil administration or police services in these areas as of yet, although there have been slight and gradual changes since the aftermath of the UN convoy attack.
“Most inhabitants have fled, homes and infrastructure are battered and meanwhile counter-insurgency operations are continuing,” Edwards told reporters at the briefing.
“Many of the displaced are women, children, the elderly and others with urgent needs. We have seen adults so exhausted they are unable to move, and children with swollen faces and hollow eyes and other clear indications of acute malnutrition,” he added.
"We have seen adults so exhausted they are unable to move, and children with swollen faces and hollow eyes.”
Edwards said many also show signs of severe trauma. People complain about a lack of food and water, as shortages of diesel fuel in the area mean pumping water is difficult. New displaced people arrive daily.
Beyond these areas, access in others remains impossible without military escort, and is for periods of only a few hours at a time. There is urgent need for armoured vehicles and military escorts, providing security and protection for UNHCR and humanitarian partners to be able to more effectively reach vulnerable populations.
A number of satellite camps for the internally displaced, which at present are being run by the military or local security groups, are below standard and need to come under the management of humanitarian actors with the proper expertise, and to help ensure the civilian character of these sites.
Since it began seven years ago, the insurgency in northeast Nigeria has mutated into a vast regional crisis confronting Nigeria and its three Lake Chad Basin neighbours – Chad, Cameroon and Niger.
Insecurity has driven more than 187,000 Nigerians across the border, but incursions by Boko Haram into the surrounding countries have generated growing numbers of internally displaced people too. There are 157,000 internally displaced people in Cameroon, 74,800 in Chad and over 127,000 in Niger.
As of the most recent available date there are 2,066,783 displaced people within Nigeria.