Silver lining in northeast Nigeria crisis

by Peter Lundberg | @plundber | UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs (OCHA)
Friday, 17 November 2017 16:07 GMT

Women gather at a water collecting point at the internally displaced people's camp in Bama, Borno State, Nigeria, August 31, 2016. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

There are signs that security is returning in some areas and this is positive

Scarcely would news events from Nigeria's northeast inspire optimism. The humanitarian crisis in Nigeria, triggered by an armed conflict, is one of the most severe in the world. Yet the determination by men, women and the young to battle and survive the adversity unleashed by the long-running violence is deeply moving. Their resolve, and over the past year, an accelerated relief assistance, are making a positive difference in a region struck by one of the world's most severe humanitarian emergencies.

Since the start of the conflict in 2009, more than 20,000 people have been killed, thousands of women and girls abducted and children used as
"suicide" bombers. This year alone more than 110 children have been used as "human bombs" by the group known as Boko Haram, being forced to don vests or belts packed with explosives and blow themselves up in a crowd.  Attacks on camps for internally displaced people, market places and mosques occur on a weekly basis and spread fear among people who have already witnessed the horrors of this conflict.

This crisis has engulfed the north-east of Nigeria, a vast territory almost two thirds the size of the United Kingdom. It has also spread into neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Hundreds of thousands of people are displaced and in need of food, water, shelter, health care and protection. A cholera outbreak in August threatened to spiral out of control had there not been a swift reaction. Hundreds of Nigerian refugees have been flooding back in recent months, seeking humanitarian aid in areas that are already crammed with others who need help.



I have met many families since taking up the role of deputy humanitarian coordinator one year ago. Of the many chilling accounts of persecution at the hands of attackers I have heard, one recounted by Alhaji is etched in my mind. I met him at a run-down petrol station just outside Pulka, a small, and once sleepy town near the Nigeria-Cameroon border. He was captured alongside others when a group of armed men raided their village. The assailants went on to kill 17 of his neighbours in front of his eyes. He miraculously managed to escape and found his way to Pulka, now home to 20,000 displaced people.

When I met Alhaji, 30 and father of four, he was still searching for his wife and three of his children. While he survived, his arms are nearly paralysed from having been viciously tied up to a tree for hours. But there he was, not just hanging on, but actively trying to make the most of the support we can provide for him to be reunited with his family and rebuild their lives.



Not all is doom and gloom. There are signs that security is returning in some areas and this is positive. Indeed, over 1.3 million people have returned home in recent months and are trying to kick start their lives, which mainly revolve around farming. These people still do rely on aid, for example seeds and tools, but will eventually resume normal life.

The task ahead remains immense with 1.6 million people still displaced and people continuing to flee violence on a regular basis. The United Nations and non-governmental organisations, at the request of the government of Nigeria, are providing lifesaving humanitarian assistance to the people who most need it. In 2017, we launched an appeal of over $1 billion to do this. Today, 68 per cent of our appeal is funded. This means we still need $350 million to protect, feed and support millions of vulnerable people. That is a staggering amount. 

I am, however, optimistic. Donors, including the U.K. government, have generously supported our work and hundreds of thousands of people are receiving food, safe drinking water, latrines, health services, vaccination campaigns, nutrition supplements, education and much more. The massive increase in humanitarian aid delivery this year is remarkable, and is helping to avert famine. But we need to do more.

As the conflict enters its ninth year, we must keep up the life-saving work. We must keep talking about what is going on in the north-east of Nigeria, both here and abroad, and the abhorrent atrocities that people endure. And we must continue to hope that peace is right around the corner. That is what will bring this humanitarian crisis to an end.

Peter Lundberg is the United Nations deputy humanitarian coordinator in northeast Nigeria.