Urgent intervention is required to forestall a humanitarian crisis of grave proportions at the Internally Displaced Persons Camp in Bama, where hundreds are at the risk of dying.
By Samuel Malik
On May 5, 2016, health workers were alerted that some people needed help within the Internally Displaced Persons, IDP, camp in Bama, 70 kilometres from Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.
On getting there, five women were seen lying on the ground, some gasping while the others were barely conscious. Three of the women were with children, including a little girl sucking her mother’s breast while her brother lay on the ground with his head on the mother’s leg.
The only means of transportation in the camp are handcarts but by the time some were brought to transport the women to the clinic, two of them had died, one of them being the woman whose daughter was still sucking her breast.
The little children were separated from the dead mother and handed over to their grandmother, an elderly woman sitting nearby, who herself was so weak that she could only watch helplessly while her daughter died. The little boy died the following day.
The women’s corpses were left there in the open and only buried after 24 hours. This was because the men who were called to prepare the bodies for burial refused, as there was no water to wash the corpses and bathe themselves after the burial.
“They told me they had not had water to drink since morning and were dehydrated and too weak to do anything,” a health worker in the camp told the icirnigeria.org on condition of anonymity.
Health workers, camp officials and security agents said displaced persons in Bama face serious humanitarian crisis unless something is done urgently.
According to a report by a local non governmental organisation, NGO, Bama Community Peace Initiative, BAM-COPI, to the Protection Sector Working Group of Borno State under the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR, a daily death toll of 18 to 21 is recorded in the camp due to starvation, thirst and lack healthcare and poor hygiene.
“Food is cooked on a day in a very poor quality and low ration in all the six designated kitchens (each) with an average population of about 4,000 and above eating virtually once a day,” the report, signed by Ibrahim Mohammed, stated.
It added that from May 4 – 20, when the report was written, around 11 children aged between 0 – 15 were buried daily.
Following the report, the icirnigeria.org learnt that a meeting was called by the UNHCR protection officer, with the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, in attendance. At the meeting, a taskforce named Operation Save Bama was formed.
The taskforce met with the Borno State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA, on June 1 and the following day the state emergency agency increased its presence in the camp.
Our reporter saw some trailers of relief items when he visited Bama on June 6, including one containing pots, but in spite of this, feeding has remained once a day. Most children in the camp look very malnourished and unkempt.
The three functioning boreholes are not enough to serve the 26,000 population, more than half which are children. Women and children queue for long hours to get water, sometimes with cups and small bowls but there is no guarantee that they will get it. Thus, they sometimes have to go outside the camp to fetch water from a stream.
Hygiene and sanitation in the camp is horrible. The environment is filthy, with faecal matter littering the whole place because, unbelievably, there are no toilets. When people need to use the toilet, they just go behind their makeshift shelter to ease themselves.
The shelters are made by the displaced persons themselves with zinc, which they get from dilapidated buildings in the town. There is inadequate ventilation and when it rains, it is a sorry sight as the shelters can hardly protect them from the rain.
Majority of the IDPs live in these shelters while few lucky ones live in some quarters within the hospital. The quarters were used by Boko Haram when they occupied Bama, the reason they were not destroyed.
Investigations showed that there are no international humanitarian organisations in the camp, while running it is left to respected elders who themselves are IDPs.
There are six such leaders, called Bulamas, each in charge of a kitchen that feeds about 4,000 persons.
Since the liberation of the town more than a year ago, IDPs have found life difficult due to neglect and insiders said the daily death toll of 21 was an understatement.
“Between October last year and March this year, there was almost no intervention, save for the military,” a camp volunteer, himself a displaced person said, adding that on several occasions soldiers had to share their food with IDPs.
Some of the soldiers who spoke to our reporter said they still share food once in a while with IDPs, especially women and children.
The NGO’s report also indicates that sexual and gender-based violence occur in the camp but Mohammed said it has been difficult to authenticate.
“As a health worker interacting with the IDPs, you see the signs and know clearly that they have been abused but if they refuse to open up, there is nothing you can do,” he said, adding that cultural practices, especially relating to sex, make people reluctant to report abuses because of fear of stigmatisation.
In April this year, Governor Kashim Shettima appealed to the United Nations and donor agencies to come to the aid of Bama when he visited the town.
“I want to appeal to donor agencies to come to our aid because almost the whole town was destroyed,” he said.
The Brigade Commander in the town, A.G. Laka, a Colonel, had told the governor that there was need for immediate intervention in the camp, especially in the areas of water, shelter and healthcare.
“Sir, we have three challenges. As you are aware, our job is to provide security, but there were no health workers at the camp to render such services to the IDPs. The second challenge is lack of water, and the third is lack of shelter for the IDPs,” Laka explained.
Shettima also threatened to stop the salaries of the local government health workers if they did not return to the town to help out.
Despite these pleas and threat, the condition in the camp has remained the same as the local government health team is overwhelmed by the situation.
The Borno State government did not respond to our enquiries, as spokesperson to the governor, Isa Gusau, did not reply to an email seeking to find out if the government is doing anything about the condition in the camp.
Also, the zonal coordinator of NEMA, Mohammed Kanar, did not respond to our email, phone call and text message seeking to know whether it was aware of the condition in the camp and what is being done.