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Malnutrition hovers over half a million Nigerian children

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 5th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Unrest equals hunger and malnutrition in Nigeria, a troubled West African nation who has dropped off the world's radar due to ongoing conflicts in other countries. Ongoing armed conflict between insurgents and Nigeria's security forces in 11 northern states have forced untold thousands of Nigerians to neighboring countries in search of food, shelter and livelihoods.
 

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - More than half a million children in northern Nigeria now must contend with malnutrition.

Humanitarian organizations are finding it hard to reach the millions who remain. Only four international relief organizations have been able to attend to the needs of the estimated 55 million people at risk.

"If this was happening in other African countries, the world would sit up and pay attention," Choice Okoro, Head of Mission in Nigeria for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says.

"We tend to forget that we're talking about people, not percentages. Just five percent of the Nigerian population is equivalent to a quarter of the population of any other West African country," she told journalists in a telephone interview.

Severe acute malnutrition or SAM hangs heavy in the air in northern Nigeria. SAM is defined by the World Health Organization as a very low weight for height, visible severe wasting, or the presence of nutritional fluid retention or edema.

"To put things into perspective, Niger, which usually has the worst malnutrition in the Sahel, is expected to have 290,000 cases of SAM by the end of this year. Nigeria will have almost double that," Cyprien Fabre, Head of the Regional Support Office at the Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department of the European Commission says. 

"Only 60 percent of the children affected by severe acute malnutrition will receive treatment. A further 900,000 children will suffer from moderate acute malnutrition this year, a loose indication of the level of food security in the region," he added.

A growing humanitarian crisis was evident as far back as five years ago, around the time of the 2008 Sahel Food Crisis. In the south of Niger, where ECHO was running malnutrition programs, many of the children seeking treatment were coming from northern Nigeria, relief workers said.

"It was clear to see that things were bad across the border, but there were no international aid agencies in northern Nigeria, so nobody could assess the situation," Fabre says. 

Part of Nigeria's crisis is political in nature. "There is the notion that Nigeria has the capacity in terms of financial means - it's an oil producing country. That's true, but what is needed is technical assistance to ensure effective intervention when emergencies happen," Okoro says.

 

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