International Plea to Save 400,000 Children From Looming Nigeria Famine

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (December 2, 2016) — As humanitarian donors prepare to gather in Geneva, award-winning British-Nigerian actor David Oyelowo has joined Nigerian luminaries and international aid organizations in writing an open letter warning global leaders of the tens of thousands of children who could starve in North East Nigeria unless the world acts immediately.

Oyelowo is joining Aliko Dangote, one of Africa’s leading businessmen, U2’s Bono and Save the Children in demanding decisive action to address the crisis when the donors meet to agree world-wide humanitarian emergency funding in Geneva next week.

Oyelowo, who was raised in Lagos and London, co-writes in the letter: "The tragedy now unfolding in North East Nigeria is one of the world’s deadliest but least reported emergencies.

"Over 4.7 million people are in need of food assistance and some 400,000 children are at imminent risk of starvation. It must be addressed when humanitarian emergency donors gather this week in Geneva."

An appeal by Nigeria as part of the UN’s global Humanitarian Response Plan is announced today in Abuja, as Save the Children’s new report on North East Nigeria ‘Children’s Lives and Futures at Risk’ warns of a threat of full-scale famine.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network estimates that more than 65,000 people are in famine conditions[1]. Fourteen million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the UN.

"North East Nigeria is teetering on the brink of famine. The UN estimates that 75,000 children could die over the next year from malnutrition: that’s as many as 205 children who could die every day," said Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children.

"There is still a window of opportunity to prevent a full-blown famine – but that window is closing fast. Failure to act would be indefensible and unforgivable."

Among other interventions, Save the Children and ONE are calling for innovative financing opportunities to ensure the UN appeal is fully funded. Today’s report from Save the Children highlights that large sums of illicit finance from Nigeria are laundered through banks and the property markets in the United Kingdom.

It has been recently agreed that criminal assets stolen from Nigeria and seized in the UK can now be returned to Nigeria, with the Nigerian government pledging to use any returned funds to benefit the poorest.

"The international aid response for 2016 has been inadequate," Miles added. "Save the Children is calling on all OECD countries to donate much needed funds, and for the Nigerian government to immediately use these for the humanitarian response."

As the Nigerian army continues its advance into insurgent strongholds in areas bordering Niger, Chad and Cameroon, it is almost inevitable that more humanitarian suffering will be revealed. The conflict has been characterized by systematic, widespread and grave violation of children’s rights. Killing, abductions and sexual abuse, and the forced recruitment into militias has been tragically commonplace. Many children have witnessed atrocities first-hand, or have themselves been subject to attacks, and are in desperate need of psychosocial support.

Three teenage brothers captured and imprisoned for three months told Save the Children staff during a counselling session for displaced children:

"The day our village was attacked, our teacher was with us. They cut off our teacher’s head with a sword. They killed our parents. They dropped them in a well. They told us to stop crying or we will also be killed. We heard the voices of our parents screaming inside our heads."

Save the Children has already witnessed the deadly effects of a delayed international response. As the crisis has intensified, it has established seven outpatient therapeutic-feeding sites and an emergency unit to which children with life threatening malnutrition can be referred for treatment. Children referred to the center display the classic symptoms of Kwashiorkor (lack of protein leading to fluid-retention), Marasmus (energy deficiency) and extreme hunger, with distended stomachs, pencil thin limbs, loss of hair, acute anemia and severe skin conditions. Most arrive with complicating conditions, including diarrhea and pneumonia.

Many of the children being treated have been carried or walked for between three days and two weeks from areas like Mafa and Konduga. One mother in Save the Children’s emergency feeding clinic in Maiduguri told of how her husband, uncle and three children were beheaded in front of her. Another described sometimes going for five days without food.

Another concern, widely voiced by parents in Save the Children clinics, is that children leaving the stabilization clinic are returning to an environment marked by extreme poverty, rising food prices, and little or no support.

[1] For the UN to officially declare a famine, three important conditions must be met. First, 20 per cent of the population must have fewer than 2100 kilocalories of food available per day. Secondly, more than 30 per cent of children must be acutely malnourished. And finally, two deaths per day in every 10,000 people – or four deaths per day in every 10,000 children – must be being caused by lack of food.

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