Over a hundred thousand families in conflict-hit northeast Nigeria have been reached so-far with food and nutrition support in a US$20 million (£16.1m) multi-year joint project funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID).
With more than 4.4 million people struggling in crisis and emergency food security levels in Borno and Yobe – the two states worst-hit by the Boko Haram conflict – UNICEF, the World Food Programme (WFP) and Action Against Hunger (AAH) are working together to give families in the two states greater access to food and to protect children from malnutrition.
“We are building a system not only to treat children for malnutrition, but to help families who have been devastated by the conflict to prevent their children from becoming malnourished in the future”, said Mohamed Fall, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria.
The three-year project is being carried out in collaboration with the primary health-care agencies of the Government of Nigeria and Borno and Yobe states. It is providing vitamin and mineral supplements for mothers and children, funding for families with severely malnourished children to buy nutritious food, treatment for children with diarrhoea, and advice for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers on how they can provide the best possible nutrition for their children.
With high levels of malnutrition even before the start of the Boko Haram conflict, the two most-affected states have seen food insecurity and malnutrition rates rise dramatically as a result of the fighting. In an already poor area, agriculture and markets have been disrupted by the fighting, which intensified towards the end of last year. The majority of food and seed stocks have been depleted, looted or destroyed, and many of the 1.8 million people who have fled their homes because of the conflict have had to leave behind what little stocks they had. Displacement has left many families with no means of earning a living.
The project, which began in April and runs through March 2019, has already treated 30,000 children for severe acute malnutrition
Although this is the harvest season, when more food would normally be available, an estimated 55,000 people in Borno state are living in famine-like conditions. That number is predicted to double by the middle of next year, making longer-term interventions such as the DFID-funded project all the more important.
The project, which began in April and runs through March 2019, has already treated 30,000 children for severe acute malnutrition. More than 100,000 pregnant women have received iron folate; 60,000 children have been treated for diarrhoea, which can cause malnutrition or make it worse; 350,000 children have been given vitamin A supplements, boosting their immune systems and helping to protect them from illnesses such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and measles, which are frequently fatal in the area; and 40,000 pregnant and breastfeeding mothers have been helped with information on the best ways to feed young children in the circumstances in which they live.
An additional part of the project is a system of providing funds directly to families with the lowest incomes to enable them to buy nutritious food to prevent relapse after children have been treated for malnutrition. So far, more than 7,000 families have received this cash assistance.
“Access to cash has proven effective in helping internally displaced families to have a rich and varied diet, ensuring good nutrition for their children as well as enabling them to meet basic needs”, said Sory Ouane, WFP Nigeria’s Representative and Country Director.
Working with Nigerian government authorities, UNICEF is administering the nutrition aspects of the programme in Borno state, which has the heaviest burden of malnutrition, while WFP is managing the cash transfers and AAH is managing both aspects of the project in Yobe state.
“The fact that this is a multi-year commitment enables us not only to save children’s lives today, but to provide families and the most vulnerable young children with protection from malnutrition in the future as well”, said UNICEF Representative Fall.
In the three northeast Nigerian states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, an estimated 400,000 children under the age of five will suffer from severe acute malnutrition this year. It is an extremely dangerous condition, making a child nine times more likely to die from an illness than a properly-nourished child. UNICEF, AAH and other partners working in these three states have so far this year managed to treat more than 130,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, including those in the DFID-funded project.