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The Paris-based medical charity, Medicines San Frontieres, MSF has again raised the alarm over the humanitarian crisis in the North east of Nigeria, saying that thousands of children below the age of five are dying daily of starvation and disease.
The group, more commonly referred to as Doctors Without Borders, said this on Tuesday in reaction to a recent survey which it said has forced the Nigerian authorities to stop denying the crisis.
Natalie Roberts, the emergency program manager for MSF in the North east Nigeria, told journalists that the group hopes that the official recognition of the calamity by the Nigerian government will help bring urgent aid “before older children also start dying.”
According to the new survey which was conducted in two refugee camps in the city of Maiduguri, “a quarter of the expected population of under-5 children is missing, assumed dead.”
“Northeastern Nigeria’s under-5 mortality rates are more than double the threshold for declaring an emergency,” Roberts said in an interview.
“We only saw older brothers and sisters. No toddlers are straddling their big sisters’ hips. No babies strapped to their mums’ backs. It’s as if they have just vanished,” she added.
However, the leadership of the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, had consistently denied the claims.
Coordinator of NEMA in the northeast, Mohammed Kanar even alleged that the MSF were using claims of malnutrition in the region as a ploy to get more money from international donor agencies.
At another instance, Chairman of the Borno State Emergency Management Agency, Satomi Ahmed, announced that the state government was treating over two thousand malnourished children at a centre in Maiduguri.
All these denial were in spite of a publication by the Associated Press, Showing severely malnourished children being taken care of at an intensive feeding centre run by the MSF in Maiduguri.
“The difference now is that our figures have been checked by the statistician general, and we have official recognition from the government that they believe this is happening,” Roberts told journalists.
She noted further that an estimated 75,000 children could die within a year due to the fact that only a third of the requested funding have been received.
The United Nations says that about $1 billion is needed to provide adequate nutrition for malnourished children for the rest of the year and into 2017.
A US-based charity, Save the Children, said that an important funding conference in Geneva, Switzerland, in December could yield the desired result, otherwise “it won’t be long before we could be in the painful position of having to turn away sick and starving children.”
Some 2.6 million people including more than 1 million children have been displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency that has claimed more than 20,000 lives, and destroyed farms and properties that may never be appropriately valued in monetary terms.
The humanitarian crisis has been worsened by reports of diversion and stealing of food items donated for the wellbeing of victims of the insurgency, by IDP camp officials as well as security agents.
President Muhammadu Buhari has set up a presidential committee, headed by Theophilus Danjuma, a retired army general, to coordinate aid and the rebuilding of the northeast.
Meanwhile, there has been an increase in the rate of attacks by the Boko Haram terrorists in recent weeks with a number of suicide bombings recorded in various parts of Borno State.