Nigeria and the Unspoken Effects of Boko Haram

In Nigeria, “nine million people need emergency relief; 4.5 million people are severely food insecure; [and] 2.5 million people have been forced from their homes,” according to the United Nations (UN). UNICEF stated that “an estimated 244,000 children faced severe malnourishment in Borno State alone and warn[ed] that an estimated 49,000 – one in five – would die if they didn’t receive treatment” and Elizabeth Wright, head of communications for Action Contre La Faim (Action Against Hunger), said that it is “the worst humanitarian crisis and suffering since World War II.” However, this particular aspect of life in northeastern Nigeria is receiving sparse news coverage.

A severely malnourished Nigerian refugee in a refugee camp in the 1960s

One of the primary causes of the famine and extreme malnutrition is the presence of Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram. The group, which has been active in Nigeria since the early 2000s, was deemed a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” in 2013 by the US State Department, and in 2015 it pledged its allegiance to the ISIL, referring to itself as “ISIL-West Africa Province,” according to National Counterterrorism Center. The United States Institute of Peace reported that Boko Haram primarily attacks “representations of authority” by taking over areas, buildings, towns, and regions, and attacking both government and public locations. The group is arguably most famous for its April 2014 kidnapping of 276 Chiboki schoolgirls, 21 of whom were released on October 14th, 2016. However, while the immediate effects of Boko Haram’s actions in northeastern Nigeria are often reported, there is a lack of news coverage on the long-term and less direct effects.

Just outside Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State and the founding place of Boko Haram, there is an increasing number of unofficial camps of displaced persons. The United States’ National Public Radio (NPR) reported that Muna, one of the informal settlements, is “a sea of flimsy, makeshift shelters, covered in plastic sheeting. It stretches out for acres, with virtually no trees, facilities or amenities in sight for more than 13,000 displaced people.” The individuals within these camps have either chosen to leave their homes or have been forcefully removed by Boko Haram. The settlements are barren, and have resulted in Nigeria’s low rates in human development indicators including poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy and, most recently, malnutrition. As a result of the conflict between the government and Boko Haram, access to the camps is limited, and therefore it is suspected that the situation is worse than has been previously reported in many of the settlements.

A young Nigerian child suffering from kwashiorkor, a severe case of protein–energy malnutrition, in the 1960s

Despite the fact that “These are kids that basically have been hungry all their lives,” as American midwife Jean Stowell explained, there have been few reports on this aspect of Boko Haram’s terror. The media has covered the starving children in Africa for decades, but has it decided that this topic will no longer bring in the most views, or the most revenue? Even though, as Elizabeth Wright explained, “We are seeing a horrifying prevalence of malnutrition that far exceeds emergency thresholds, and people are facing catastrophic levels of food insecurity,” not to mention the reported cases of measles and polio, the news has, mostly, neglected to inform the public of the long-term repercussions of Boko Haram’s presence in northeastern Nigeria.

Nevertheless, not all news agencies are ignoring the conflict, and a number of humanitarian agencies are involved in bringing aid, such as UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders, who have set up emergency feeding centers primarily for children in and near several of the settlements. It is impossible to predict the future actions, and therefore repercussions, of Boko Haram’s decisions. However, it is clear that northeastern Nigeria is in need of both news coverage and increased humanitarian aid.

For more information and to follow the situation, check the UN News Centre.

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