Hidden Hunger Crisis in North-East Nigeria Could Kill 200 per Day

New data from Save the Children reveals that in some areas up to half of all children under-five are suffering from acute malnutrition

Fairfield, Conn. (November 14, 2016) — A new survey from Save the Children has found that up to half of all children under-five are acutely malnourished in some parts of north-east Nigeria where it is feared 200 children could die every day in a hidden hunger crisis.

Screenings carried out between June and October regularly found between 40 percent and 50 percent of children under-five to be acutely malnourished in some places. The figure could be even worse in areas that are out of reach because of insecurity, the charity says. Save the Children is warning that the hunger crisis threatens to overwhelm a desperately under-funded humanitarian response.

Ben Foot, Country Director of Save the Children Nigeria, has just visited intensive care units for malnourished children on the outskirts of Maiduguri, the capital city of Borno state and says the agency’s unit is struggling to cope.

"Children are arriving here fighting for their lives. Our intensive care unit is already over capacity and we are having to move severely malnourished children to mattresses on the floor. Our medical staff are working around the clock but in the absence of new funding it won’t be long before we could be in the painful position of having to turn away sick and starving children."

One of the children in the unit last week was a very thin and distressed 1-year-old girl named Saliha* whose mother had fled to Maiduguri after her husband was killed by insurgents. The woman’s other child, aged two, had died of measles before she could reach help.

"I never want to go back," the mother said. "All I want is for Saliha to get well."

A vital funding conference expected to be held in Geneva in early December could help to provide the money needed to prevent the hunger crisis from spiraling out of control, Save the Children says.

"The really shocking aspect of the international response is the absence of key international donors," Foot said. "With the UK, US and EU accounting for two-thirds of the aid provided, other countries need to step up."

North-east Nigeria’s humanitarian crisis - the result of a brutal seven-year insurgency which has forced 1 million children from their homes – has been described by the United Nations as the most neglected in the world.

Another mother at Save the Children’s clinic said her husband, uncle and three of her children had been murdered in front of her. Her 2-year-year old daughter was acutely malnourished, under-developed and suffering from pneumonia when she arrived. Doctors had saved the toddler’s life but feared that her mother, who had nothing, would be unable to keep the girl and two other children healthy.

With a United Nations appeal only 38 percent funded, 75,000 severely malnourished children could die within a year unless they receive immediate humanitarian aid, the UN says.

"Children are showing up in desperate conditions and facing severe malnutrition, often in combination with other life-threatening illnesses like pneumonia, malaria and diarrhea," said Ben Foot. "For some cases this may be the second or third time they have fought malnutrition so their immune systems are already severely weakened. We just don’t have the resources to enable us to follow up on cases effectively."

Ben Foot added: "The international community needs to wake up to the scale of the crisis unfolding in north-east Nigeria. We need a humanitarian response plan of at least billion for the end of 2016, into 2017. That’s double the amount requested this year, and only one-third of that request was met. Repeating this performance will cost thousands of children their lives."

Save the Children has provided treatment to 12,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition in north-east Nigeria. In September, it opened a new stabilization center to provide lifesaving care to a rising number of children suffering from the most severe form of acute malnutrition with complications such as malaria.

The organization is providing emergency food assistance to 7,500 families, and aims to reach 5,000 more in the next few weeks. The food assistance comes in the form of electronic vouchers, which are managed through a mobile phone platform. Save the Children has built latrines and water pumps, is providing care for 3- to 5-year-olds and is training foster parents to care for children who have been separated from their own parents.

*Name changed to protect identity

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