Hunger, fear stalk Nigeria’s Boko Haram displaced
Zainabu Ali cradles her infant son Ibrahim in her arms as he sleeps in a three-bedroom house that she shares with about 20 family members in the north Nigerian city of Kaduna.
The family fled Izghe in Borno state in February 2014, when Boko Haram fighters dressed in military uniform stormed the village and slaughtered 106 people, including an elderly woman.
While the memory of what happened is still fresh far away from the village, the 30-year-old mother of seven now fears a more immediate threat.“
“I need to eat good and adequate food for the infant to get enough breast milk and I’m afraid he may become malnourished if my condition doesn’t improve,” she told AFP.
“I don’t get enough food, so how can he get enough milk? I have not eaten since morning. This can affect his health but what can I do?”
According to WomanBeing International, a charity based in the northern city of Kano which recently visited camps for those displaced by Boko Haram violence, malnutrition has become a serious problem.
“Signs of malnutrition… are present in more than 60 percent” of the 8,000 children living in the 20,000-strong Dalori camp in the Borno state capital Maiduguri as a result of poor diet,” the charity said in a recent report.
“With only a meal of rice and some watery/oily fluid for lunch and dinner, one would expect a better health situation for IDPs (internally displaced persons) in this camp.
“The children have the same type of meal three times a day, regardless of their age,” added the report seen by AFP.
– Hard choice –
Some 10 percent of the two million or so Nigerians internally displaced by the six-year conflict now live in camps, according to the International Organization for Migration.
But it is outside the camps, since the remaining 90 percent are staying with friends and family, where there is increasing concern about food and assistance.
“Their major problem is food. Honestly, they have no food,” said Idris Mohammed, a local chief in the Kaduna suburb of Barakallahu who coordinates the trickle of assistance from individuals.
“The second problem is school for their children who have been out of school for two years.”
Zainabu’s mother-in-law Hadiza Saleh said they are faced with a hard choice.
“We either stay here in deprivation or move back home and risk Boko Haram bullets. For almost two years we have been staying here no-one has given us any food aid,” she said.
Underlining the threat from Boko Haram, a female suicide bomber disguised as a displaced person killed eight people on the outskirts of Maiduguri on Sunday.
The mostly women and children had arrived in the city from Dikwa, 90 kilometres (56 miles) away, as the town had been short of supplies, including food, NEMA said.
Even in the camps safety is not guaranteed. In Yola, the capital of Adamawa state, a home-made bomb exploded in September, killing seven.
Asabe Adamu sits cross-legged on the floor of a dingy room in a decrepit mudhouse, a worn-out rug on the rough, broken cement floor and old clothing hanging from crumbling walls.
For the past year, the 48-year-old widow from Gamboru Ngala has survived on handouts.
Her husband and eldest son were killed when Boko Haram gunmen stormed Gamboru, on the border with Cameroon in a remote corner of Borno state.
She, too, fears going home even with the town now back in government control but she said life has become impossible for her and her eight remaining children in Kaduna.
“We can’t afford to live in Kaduna because I have no trade to support my children but returning home now is not possible because of the insecurity there as Boko Haram are on the prowl,” she said.
– Deadline, breadline –
In Kaduna, the state government refused to open camps on security grounds, according to one security source. The result has been difficulties in aid reaching the displaced.
Adamu said she received some food aid from Nigeria’s main relief body the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) four months ago — but it was not enough.
Fears of hunger have spread to places seized back by the military in Borno and the neighbouring states of Yobe and Adamawa, where some of the displaced have returned.
With aid agencies concentrating on the distribution of food in the camps, missed harvests and the inability to plant crops in the mainly agricultural region risks thousands going hungry.
Now generosity is drying up in host communities already struggling with poverty and joblessness.
“We were getting some assistance from sympathetic individuals but such assistance has almost stopped coming in,” said Adama Uluba, 37, who fled the Borno town of Gwoza in August 2014.
Another worry is money to renew the rent.
Adamu said her landlord served her an eviction notice when her tenancy expired three months ago and she was unable to pay.
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has given the military a December deadline to end the insurgency, which has killed at least 17,000 people since 2009.
Adamu for one is hoping the army is successful.
“I’m living on a two-month reprieve and my hope is for the military to secure the whole of northeast by December so that I return to my home, otherwise I may end up in the streets,” she said.