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Children in northern Nigeria and across the Sahel face severe malnourishment

Last year, only 63% of the UN’s appeal for the Sahel was met
Last year, only 63% of the UN’s appeal for the Sahel was met

This week the United Nations has appealed for two billion dollars to feed a record 20 million people across the Sahel belt, including an alarming number of malnourished children in northern Nigeria.

Food insecurity is once again rising across the Sahel belt of Africa, affecting an estimated 20 million people. Last year, only 63% of the UN’s appeal for the Sahel was met and budgets are expected to be restricted again this year. To address the ongoing food problems, many agencies such as the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) are now working on three-year strategies in the Sahel to try to reverse the trend of food shortages year after year.

In a number of countries which have experienced conflict, such as Mali and Nigeria, the situation is compounded by disrupted food supplies and the displacement of around 1.6 million people. The high number of refugees in Africa makes the task of emergency food distribution even harder for governments and aid agencies.

Particular problems in Northern Nigeria

Three of the nine Sahel countries currently account for around two-fifths of the current food insecurity in the region. One of these is Nigeria, where high malnutrition rates are now widespread across north-eastern districts.
Although these regions only account for around 5% of Nigeria’s people, with such a large population, this represents the equivalent of a quarter of the population of other West African countries. This means more than half a million Nigerian children are facing severe malnutrition in 2014.

Map of the Sahel, West Africa
Map of the Sahel, West Africa

However, due to ongoing insecurity relief organisations have struggled to address the situation. So far only four international relief organisations have been able to offer support to the estimated 55 million people at risk, half of whom live below the poverty line. Aid workers who are present in the area say that due to the present difficulties, only 60% of children affected by severe acute malnutrition in northern Nigeria are likely to receive treatment. Many families are being forced to leave in order to get help for their children in neighbouring countries such as Niger.

“Sit up and pay attention”

The Nigerian Red Cross is working on the ground, but other key agencies such as the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) are currently absent. Speaking to Reuters, the Deputy Africa Director for an international human rights organisation said “It’s a difficult situation for the Nigerian government, but they don’t seem to be moving quickly to resolve the problem.” A spokesperson for OCHA also commented that if such large numbers of malnourished people were present in any other African country, “the world would sit up and pay attention”.

SOS Children is a long-term presence in Nigeria. We have supported families here since 1973. In response to the recent food crisis, we delivered emergency relief to the most vulnerable people across the Sahel region.