At least 2.3 million children and youth are going hungry in northeastern Nigeria where escalating violence has forced farmers to flee their fields and put the region on the brink of critical food shortages, humanitarian groups have warned.
Nigerian security forces in the region have waged a more than decade-long war against Boko Haram and its now more powerful offshoot, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).
Attacks by armed groups have intensified in recent months, with dozens of soldiers and civilians killed, including farmers.
The long-running conflict has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions, but it is now joined by food inflation across Nigeria that has meant millions nationwide can no longer reliably feed themselves or their families.
International humanitarian group Save the Children estimated on Friday that 700,000 children under five are among the 2.3 million children affected, and called on the government to protect farmers and dedicate more resources.
“Millions of children have already been through a decade of suffering, violence and humanitarian crisis. Thousands and thousands have died, and many more saw their rights impacted to survive, learn and be protected,” said Shannon Ward, Save the Children’s acting country director for Nigeria, warning that the situation was dire.
According to United Nations estimates, some 10.5 million children are out of school in Nigeria.
“The reported loss of livelihoods, land and crop coupled with the effects of COVID-19 is beyond something the community can bear,” Ward added.
“We are extremely worried that this will lead to an even bigger food crisis in the northeast of the country,” she added.
UN agency statement
Meanwhile, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the combination of climate change, insecurity and the coronavirus pandemic had put the region on the brink of “catastrophic” food insecurity.
Edward Kallon, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Nigeria, said about 4.4 million people were at risk of critical food shortages and that the “growing threat of catastrophic food insecurity” was at its worst in five years.
Kallon said that without humanitarian assistance in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states, millions would struggle to feed themselves.
“Parents are taking their children out of school to beg in order to survive,” Kallon said, adding: “Women have shared that they resort to eating grass.”
The crisis in Nigeria comes at a time when the world is facing its biggest hunger crisis of the 21st century, with an estimated 5.7 million children under five on the brink of starvation across the globe.
A further 13 million children under 18 are facing extreme food shortages, according to Save the Children.