• The real impact of Boko Haram’s reign of terror is emerging as the IRC gains more access to affected areas. The clearing of Boko Haram from these areas was just the first step in a long journey for the people who have been trapped for nearly seven years;

  • 184 children will die each day in northeastern Nigeria in 2016 due to causes related to acute malnutrition, according to the UN;

  • Despite real security risks, the International Rescue Committee is significantly scaling up its humanitarian response to our largest complex emergency of the moment;

  • It is time for the Government of Nigeria and the international community to acknowledge the scale of the humanitarian emergency and put resources in place to address this chronically underfunded crisis - before it is too late;

  • The security and infrastructure is not yet in place for recovery, rehabilitation, and returns in Borno state. The gaps between funding and needs will only grow as new areas become accessible over the next year.

The Northeast of Nigeria is teetering on the brink of famine as 5 million people are in urgent need of food assistance, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said today. All actors, including the international community, the Nigerian government, and the UN should acknowledge the scale and address the humanitarian crisis and shift away from a perspective of large scale recovery and returns in nearly all of Borno state. The IRC reclassified the emergency to its highest levels and is significantly scaling up its response, both in scope and in reach, to save the lives of those caught in the middle of Boko Haram’s war.

Nigeria Maiduguri Yobe malnutrition
Young child is screened for malnutrition in Maiduguri, northeastern Nigeria, on August 5, 2016
Photo: Tyler Jump

The numbers are staggering and IRC medical teams on the ground are reporting incredibly high levels of admissions with Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM). Available evidence indicates that a food security Emergency (IPC Phase 4) is occurring for more than 1 million people in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states, with the possibility of Famine (IPC Phase 5) conditions in particularly affected areas. According to OCHA 65,000 people are already in Phase 5 in Borno and Yobe States. Additionally, 3.3 million are in Phase 3 (crisis) and at high risk if not reached soon.

These numbers are likely a very conservative estimate of the reality on the ground, as more areas open up and we gain access to areas previously controlled by Boko Haram. We are seeing many women and children each day with acute malnutrition which is often coupled with complications such as malaria, tuberculosis, and other life-threatening illnesses. Witnessing this need inside Maiduguri only confirms the urgency with which we need to get things moving at scale in other, previously unreachable areas.

- Sarah Ndikumana, Nigeria country director at the International Rescue Committee


Since 2012, the Boko Haram insurgency has crippled northeastern Nigeria. Over 23,000 civilians have lost their lives and thousands of women and girls have been abducted and forced into sexual slavery. Borno State has been particularly affected, with all 27 Local Government Areas (LGAs) falling under Boko Haram control at one point. Of the 2.2 million people forced from their homes across the region, over half (1.8 million) are in Borno.

To make matters worse, the Nigerian economy is in free fall and the Naria to USD rate continues to plummet daily. Inflation is having a real impact, as the risk of ongoing recruitments into Boko Haram is high when there are very limited options for people in the northeast – no school for children, no livelihoods, no food.

The Humanitarian Needs Overview compiled by OCHA in November 2015 estimated that there are 4.2 million people in need in Borno. Of the 7 million in need across Northeastern Nigeria, 3 million remained trapped in inaccessible areas at the beginning of 2016. In recent months, advances by the Nigerian Army and the Multinational Joint Task Force have led to improved access to some areas in Borno, revealing significant humanitarian needs.

While data on the affected population is limited, we know they have had little access to basic health, water and sanitation services, and there are high levels of protection concerns, including violence against women and girls. Insufficient services in accessible areas continue to be overwhelmed as more people flee towards safety. Emerging information from the UN shows that 184 (growing from 134 in July 2016) children will die each day, adults are coming in with Severe Acute Malnutrition, and this situation is only likely to worsen in the months to come as more people become accessible who have been cut off from any assistance for years; they will have the same, if not worse, malnutrition and food access issues.

Over the past three years, many health care facilities in the northeast have been abandoned, destroyed, or remain inaccessible due to security concerns. Trade routes have been cut off, and farmers have been unable to plant their fields. The result is a health and nutrition crisis of a staggering scale. Because there is very little opportunity to work through existing structures, the IRC has deployed mobile outreach teams which will provide urgently needed nutrition and primary health care services to populations that cannot access facilities. This is in addition to a basic scale up in health and nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene services, food security, as well as women's protection and empowerment, and child protection and education.

What is most upsetting is that this looming famine is entirely man-made. We are seeing countless children under 5 on the verge of death because they were given no other option than to be caught in the middle of this war. The international community simply cannot wait until it is too late to respond to one of the biggest and most under-funded crises in the world.

- Sarah Ndikumana, Nigeria country director at the International Rescue Committee

women children nutrition clinic health famine nigeria maiduguri
Women and children await screening and treatment from an IRC mobile health clinic in Maiduguri, August 5, 2016.
Photo: Tyler Jump