Thousands of Nigerian children facing death due to malnutrition

20 Jul 16

Almost a quarter of a million children in north-eastern Nigeria are at risk from severe, acute malnutrition, UNICEF has warned.


The United Nation’s children’s agency said that of the 244,000 children estimated to be affected, approximately 49,000, or one in five, will die if they do not get treatment.

Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF regional director for western and central Africa, added that the true scope of the crisis is yet to be revealed.

The extent of the humanitarian crisis in Nigeria’s Borno state has only recently become apparent. Previously under the control of terrorist faction Boko Haram, the state was inaccessible and the scale of the emergency invisible.

Since it launched military operations in 2009, the Islamist group has killed around 20,000 and left more than two million people displaced.

The Nigerian military has launched an offensive to drive out the group. As aid workers gain access to more areas in north-eastern Nigeria they find more destroyed towns, and more frail people with little access to sanitation, water or food.

“There are two million people we are still not able to reach in Borno state, which means the true scope of this crisis is yet to be revealed,” said Fontaine. “There are organisations on the ground doing great work, but none of us are able to work at the scale and quality that we need. We must all scale up.”

UNICEF urged partners in the international community to join the response and called on donors to urgently provide funds.

Earlier this year, the agency appealed for $55.5m to respond to the humanitarian crisis in north-east Nigeria. So far less than half of that figure ($23m, or 41%) has been raised. The agency warned that it expects the appeal to increase significantly as more areas become accessible.

“Some 134 children on average will die every day from causes linked to acute malnutrition if the response is not scaled up quickly,” Fontaine stressed. “We need all partners and donors to step forward to prevent more children from dying. No one can take on a crisis of this scale alone.”

According to Nigeria’s The Guardian, Chris Osa Isokpunwu, head of nutrition at the country’s ministry of health, has warned the nation needs over $912m to implement its national nutrition plan and combat high rates of malnutrition and subsequent infant and mother mortality in Nigeria.

His comments came while presenting a paper to a UNICEF-sponsored conference on child malnutrition earlier this week.

The paper pointed out that every day Nigeria loses around 2,300 under-fives and 145 women of childbearing age to malnutrition, making the country the second largest contributor to under-five and maternal mortality in the world.

It said malnutrition is the number one killer of children in Nigeria, responsible for 53% of the deaths in under-fives in 2010. 

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