As malnutrition spirals, we cannot turn our backs on the children of north west Nigeria

This is partly due to the UN’s approach. Its analysis of needs in Nigeria admits that the north west has seen more deaths than the north east in recent times, yet it says that a humanitarian response is not needed. This is apparently because, unlike the north east, where government forces are fighting non-state armed groups – the situation is “not an internal conflict” and is linked to a “lack of development”. 

The UN also cites the need “not to dilute” resources dedicated to the humanitarian response in the north east. As a result, the north west has largely been overlooked and excluded from the UN’s response plan. A swift review of this approach is urgently needed.

Last year, more than 30,000 women crossed the border from Katsina to have their children treated in MSF-supported facilities in the Maradi region located in south Niger. There, our teams assist Ministry of Health workers to increase hospital capacity each year to cope with the massive influx of sick children during the ‘hunger season’ and improve access to pediatric care throughout the year.

These women and their children should not have to endure the fear and pain that come along with the ‘hunger season’. To prevent a major malnutrition crisis, the immediate response must be stepped up in north west Nigeria. If nothing changes, places like Katsina will remain overlooked and the humanitarian crisis unfolding there will continue.

The resources promised this week must be mobilised to really match the needs. Unlike MSF, whose activities are funded almost exclusively by private donations, many humanitarian organisations depend on these commitments to be able to deploy large-scale operations.

Among the measures to be taken, increasing support for healthcare at a local level is a priority. Currently, health centres in only 12 out of 34 districts in Katsina state are being supplied with therapeutic food to treat malnutrition by UNICEF.

We need to act together to save lives before the situation gets even worse. The response must be guided by the scale of need, particularly in currently overlooked north west Nigeria region.

  • Michel-Olivier Lacharité is head of emergency programmes at Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF)

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