Maiduguri, Nigeria: 'Everything we left behind is lost'

MSF teams distribute food to displaced families living in formal and informal camps in Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria’s Borno State. (Photo: Aurelie Baumel/MSF)

MSF teams distribute food to displaced families living in formal and informal camps in Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria’s Borno State. (Photo: Aurelie Baumel/MSF)

A group of women and girls sit barefoot on reed mats outside the old Goni Kachallari primary school in Maiduguri, in north-eastern Nigeria’s Borno State. Inside, lengths of multi-coloured cloth partition the space into separate living quarters for the displaced families now housed there.

Fighting between the Nigerian military and Boko Haram has displaced scores from their homes since the conflict escalated in 2015. Goni Kachallari, where some 340 families live, is one of more than a dozen temporary camps in Maiduguri for people fleeing the violence across Borno State.

Already a large city, the population of Maiduguri has doubled with the arrival of internally displaced people (IDPs), and over 2 million people now live there.

“Boko Haram forced us to flee Mafa. When they entered the town, they set fire to everything so we had to escape,” says one woman in Goni Kachallari.

“We came on foot to Maiduguri. Before we fled, they harassed us. They stole our money and motorcycles. Everything we left behind is lost,” says another.

The humanitarian emergency in Borno State is unabating, say fieldworkers from Doctors Without Borders (MSF), and more than 40% of health facilities there have reportedly been destroyed.

Alarming levels of malnutrition

Since MSF teams started providing assistance, they have witnessed alarming levels of malnutrition. Although there is no fighting in Maiduguri, food was hard to come by during October and November and the nutrition crisis was intense.

“In some locations, malnutrition rates were as high as those recorded in the conflict zones,” says Helle Poulsen-Dobbyns, a programme coordinator for MSF who recently returned from Maiduguri.

“We had lots of both manifestations of severe acute malnutrition: severe marasmus, or wasting, and kids with Kwashiorkor … When we conducted food distributions in a camp, it was the first food these 8 000 people had received in four months.”

Therapeutic feeding centres (TFCs) have been set up in Maiduguri to deal with the influx of children suffering from malnutrition. The TFC in Gwange has more than 100 beds and admits over 300 malnourished children a month. Another two health centres, in Maimusari and Bolori, provide more than 3 000 patient consultations per week. MSF regularly distributes food, aid supplies and offers medical care in four other camps, including the Muna Garage camp and the Faryia camp.

MSF treats the influx of children suffering from malnutrition in Therapeutic Feeding Centres it has set up in Gwange and other IDP camps across Borno State. Photo: Aurelie Baumel/MSF

In Faryia, MSF runs a targeted food distribution drive, providing each family with a monthly supply of: 25kg of millet, 5kg of beans, and 5 litres of oil. “That goes out to all of the families that have children under five years of age. And that’s basically the most vulnerable population in the camp. It’s an extra ration of food to support them through the month,” says John Johnson, MSF’s project coordinator in Maiduguri.

Children under five are the most vulnerable to malnutrition, and therefore the worst affected. But older children are also affected and being treated in TFCs. Zainab Ali, a 60-year-old from Alkaleri, spent almost three weeks with her 8-year-old granddaughter Aisha at the TFC in the Muna Garage camp, where the family has lived since they were forced to flee their village two years ago.

“When we brought her here, Aisha was unconscious and could not eat,” Zainab says. “Our major problem at Muna is food and shelter. My son-in-law, Aisha’s father, sells coconuts to buy corn and millet for us to eat. This is not enough but we have no choice.”

More than 340 displaced families now live in an informal IDP camp in Goni Kachallari in Maiduguri, north-eastern Nigeria. (Photo: Aurelie Baumel/MSF)

As a result of the conflict in north-eastern Nigeria:

  • 2.6 million people are displaced
  • 1.8 million of those are displaced in north-eastern Nigeria
  • There are an estimated 1.1 million IDPs in Maiduguri
  • 4.4 million people are food insecure in north-eastern Nigeria
  • 480 000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition across four countries (Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger)

‘Sometimes we go for days without food’

The conflict is depriving many of their livelihoods. Across Borno State, MSF teams are working to scale up activities in several locations and to overcome the limitations imposed by insecurity and administrative constraints. Some isolated towns, like Gwoza and Pulka, are only accessible by helicopter and MSF teams are able to stay for only a short period of time.

Monguno, which is a frontline town in the battle between Boko Haram and the military, is surrounded by trenches for security reasons, and because of ongoing instability only a small portion of the area is accessible. MSF’s Dr Dancan Owino says it takes hours of walking for most of his patients to even reach their facility in the city centre.

In Maiduguri, most of the displaced arrive with nothing, and the price of the most basic food supplies has skyrocketed. Unsafe roads jeopardise trade with neighbouring countries, and local farmers cannot cultivate their crops because of the ongoing violence and insecurity.

To survive, people beg or sell wood. When they don’t have enough money, the only way they can eat is to wait for food aid distributions – which are often woefully inadequate. Meanwhile most of the displaced — like 30-year-old Bintu Bashir — now live among the local community in Maiduguri instead of in camps, and therefore receive no aid at all.

“I live in Maiduguri in the neighbourhood around the customs office. I had eight children but only five are alive today,” Bintu says. “My husband is a bricklayer but for two years he has not been getting jobs. Most times we depend on neighbours and well-wishers for food. When they give us food, we eat. Otherwise, we stay hungry. Sometimes we go for days without food.”

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