Medical aid group Doctors Without Borders has called on the United Nations to add northwest Nigeria to its humanitarian response plan, due to high numbers of children suffering from malnutrition. The group, known by its French abbreviation MSF, said it has treated nearly 100,000 children in the region for malnutrition this year.
In a communique Tuesday, MSF warned that malnutrition among children in northwest Nigeria is at catastrophic levels and called for an immediate response from the global humanitarian community.
MSF even proposed that northwest Nigeria be included in the U.N.’s annual humanitarian response plan.
It’s the second time in three months that the medical aid group has raised serious concerns about the malnutrition crisis in Nigeria, following an alarm about northeast Nigeria in July.
Northwest Nigeria has been hard-hit by militant attacks and raids by kidnap-for-ransom gangs since late 2020.
MSF also said climate change and soaring food prices have made matters worse.
“We have scaled our response. We’re almost at a limit basically because we cannot handle this alone,” said Froukje Pelsma, MSF’s head of mission in Nigeria. “This is why we’re asking for more people to come.”
Pelsma said there are more than 30 organizations working in the northeastern part of the country but only three or four agencies in the northwest working on malnutrition.
“We want people, most especially the U.N. and other agencies, to look beyond the northeast,” she said.
MSF said it has admitted 17,000 children into 10 feeding centers across five states in the region.
Zamfara State has been the most impacted, with a 64 percent increase in the number of severely malnourished children this year compared to 2021.
“We’re working now in Kebbi, Sokoto Zamfara, Katsina and in Kano, but we’re still also very much afraid and pretty sure that we only see the top of the iceberg,” Pelsma said. “We can see numbers, but that doesn’t mean that that covers the whole issue, because we cannot be in every location.”
For years, humanitarian responses have been centered around northeastern states, especially Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, where the militant group Boko Haram has been active since 2009.
This week, top officials of the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) met in the capital to highlight problems of food security, with the goal of strengthening responses, using agriculture.
“There’s a lot to be done. This is a country where we have quite a big segment geographically that is affected by different forms of conflict,” said Fred Kafeero, FAO representative in Nigeria. “But how do we intervene in terms of strengthening and responding to that humanitarian emergency and moving towards resilience building? Much of our work is also looking at the root causes and trying to strengthen and build sustainability in the process.”
On Wednesday, MSF is taking part in a high-level humanitarian coordination team meeting with top officials of the United Nations.