By Rafiu Ajakaye
Boko Haram violence is a major setback for key humanitarian interventions and socioeconomic development in Nigeria’s northeast, a nutritionist with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said on Thursday.
The Boko Haram insurgency has claimed nearly 30,000 lives and displaced over 2 million people from the Lake Chad region, orphaning millions of children, leaving many farmlands deserted, and threatening food security.
Dozens of humanitarian workers have either been killed or abducted, leading to some nonprofit relief agencies leaving the region.
"We cannot talk about any development or food security when people don't have somewhere to live or are in fact not sure whether they would not be killed in the next attack,” Davis Bamidele Omotola, UNICEF nutrition consultant, said at the close of a two-day media dialogue on child malnutrition.
“We must resolve the crisis as early as possible to properly address the crisis of malnutrition. Government must urgently address this crisis. You can't talk of nutritious food when you don't even have a home to stay in. People must live before we talk of development.”
He also called on the government to prioritize funding for interventions targeting the over one million malnourished children in the region.
“We also face the problem of government not meeting up with the counterpart funding to treat the severely malnourished children. At the moment, the DFID [U.K. Department for International Development] is helping with provisions of the Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) for at least 240,000 of the children. But what happens to the remaining ones?” he said.
RUTF is a vitamin and mineral fortified peanut paste mixed with dry milk products. It has been heralded by Doctors Without Borders and other aid groups as powerful tool to help children suffering from severe malnutrition.
Geoffrey Njoku, communications expert with UNICEF, said budget reforms are required to free up funding for nutrition.
“This involves engagement with the stakeholders, especially the lawmakers and executives, on why money should be voted on and released for nutrition.
"In doing so, they must be made to see the impacts their actions or inactions will have on not just the children affected but society at large,” Njoku said, urging the media to help set the agenda as Nigeria readies for elections next February.