Living conditions for people uprooted by Boko Haram violence and seeking refuge in camps and towns across northeast Nigeria are more deadly than the conflict between the Islamist militants and the army, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said.
Hunger and malnutrition is widespread among the displaced in Borno State, not just in remote, previously inaccessible areas, but also in the capital Maiduguri, the medical aid group said.
Co-ordination of relief efforts must be drastically improved and food aid urgently delivered to people in need across Borno, where the humanitarian situation is reaching “catastrophic levels”, said MSF emergency programme manager Natalie Roberts.
“It is shocking to see so many people malnourished in Maiduguri, not just in isolated and hard-to-reach areas,” Roberts told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
“Aid actors have access, and there has been no Boko Haram presence for the last few years, but people are starving to death inside Maiduguri. Millions are in a nutrition crisis.”
MSF said it had recently gained access to Ngala and Gambaru, towns previously cut off from aid, where tens of thousands of people have little or nothing to eat and at least one in 10 children are suffering from life-threatening malnutrition.
Yet the medical charity said it was most concerned about the situation in Maiduguri, where malnutrition rates in some parts of the city are as high as those seen in conflict-hit areas.
Boko Haram violence has left more than 65,000 people living in famine in the northeast, with one million others at risk, and more than half of children under five are malnourished in some areas of Borno, several aid groups said last week.
Many women in aid camps in the north-east are resorting to selling sex in exchange for food and money with which to feed their families, medical charity International Medical Corps and Nigerian research group NOI Polls said this week.
Roberts said the aid response across Borno was insufficient and uncoordinated, leaving many people without any assistance.
“Civilians are not receiving aid, and find themselves trapped between Boko Haram and the military’s operations.”
The Islamist militant group has killed about 15,000 people and displaced more than two million in Nigeria in a seven-year insurgency aimed at creating a state adhering to Islamic laws.
A military offensive has driven Boko Haram from much of the territory it held in northern Nigeria, but the militants have continued to carry out suicide bombings and raids in northeast Nigeria and neighbouring Cameroon, Niger and Chad.