Insurgency is driving malnutrition among millions of Nigerian children in the north east of the country.
Malnutrition is defined as lack of proper nutrition. There are a couple of dimensions to it: not having enough to eat, not eating enough of the right things, or being unable to use the food that one does eat.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates 2.5 million Nigerian children under the age of five suffer from Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) every year, an extremely dangerous condition that makes children nine times more likely to die from common childhood illnesses such as diarrhoea, pneumonia and malaria.
UNICEF data revealed that the Boko Haram insurgency has complicated malnutrition in Nigeria, with over 900,000 children in the North-East suffering from cases of acute malnutrition.
A consultant nutritionist, Dr Davis Omotola while speaking at a media dialogue organised by UNICEF in conjunction with the Child Rights and Information Bureau of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture sponsored by the Department for International Development (DFID) on child malnutrition in Yola, with the theme, “Investing in child Malnutrition for the Future, #StopChildMalnutritionNigeria”, said malnutrition has become emergency case and should not be left in the hands of government.
“We should understand that malnutrition in Nigeria is already an emergency,” he said.
Some 25 million under-five children suffered wasting (too thin for their age) and over 10 million suffer from stunting (too thin for their age) across the country, he said, noting that the high prevalence of malnutrition has remained precarious in the North-East region of Nigeria due to the Boko Haram insurgency that has ravaged the area.
“We must understand that wasting is similar to death sentence for a child and stunting is similar to life sentence. This understanding will help us find a way of combating it and not leave the fight to the government alone.”
He added that the situation has become an emergency in Adamawa, Yobe and Borno states explaining that malnutrition is a condition that occurs when people consistently do not consume or absorb the right amounts and types of food and essential nutrients.
Though the region is identified with production of various food items in mass quantities, Dr Omotola lamented that malnutrition is worst there as a result of insurgency that has destroyed the sources of livelihood of the people, alongside their homes, farm and farmlands, infrastructures.
“Insurgency has resulted in high food insecurity, increasing the spread of endemic and disease, limited dietary diversity, poor and deteriorating healthcare system, loss of livelihoods amongst others,” he said.
“The mortality rate was higher before the insurgency but there were improvements that had come. But the insurgency only worsened the situation because the livelihood of the people has been destroyed, health facilities have been destroyed, water is no longer available because water structures have been destroyed and where people need to go in order to get succour, they can’t go there. Their houses, privacy and dignity as human beings are destroyed. All these things affect their ability to feed themselves and particularly young children and women who are largely dependent on men.”
He said men have run away because of the sound of guns and those who are ready to stay back are captured by the insurgents and forcefully recruited as part of them.
“Those who remain behind are largely women and children, and the responsibility turned on society to cater for them,” he noted.
He added that despite various interventions programme going on in the region, the rate of decline is slow because insurgency is still there and in addition, there are crises between farmers and herdsmen, cattle rustling is springing up, noting these call for more effort to be able to remove all these factors and when they are removed people are equipped using the knowledge they need to lead successful lives.
While noting that child malnutrition is present in the six geo-political zones, he said children in the North-East are the worst hit, adding, “If we don’t get it right before the children get to the age of five years, we will continue to have lots of problems in the area of nutrition.”
Number of children is not directly linked to the magnitude of malnutrition problem. One case of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) in every six children is reported in North-East emergency states. One SAM case is reported in every 7 children in 9 northern none emergency states while one in 77 children were affected in the remaining part of the country.
There is need to ameliorate the nutrition situation in the northeast, it is a ticking time bomb. It is not only in terms of the mortality rates that are coming out, but the devastation of the lives of children and women living in those areas.
UNICEF Communication Specialist, Geoffrey Njoku who give insight into the intervention programme said the objective of the media dialogue was to present facts and figures to expose the current situation of malnutrition in the North-East.
“UNICEF believes that journalists can help set the agenda for action against all forms of child malnutrition: be it severe acute malnutrition or stunting,” he said.
In his presentation at the media dialogue, UNICEF Nutrition Officer, Dr Martins Jackson whose presentation focused on tackling the menace of malnutrition in Borno and Yobe states disclosed that no fewer than, 1, 239, 802 children were given Vitamin ‘A’ supplementation in the two states.
Dr Jackson said a total 195,000 pregnant women were given iron and folate supplement to avert anaemia, and 32,000 mothers were given N5,000 each on monthly basis as an incentive for exclusive breastfeeding and complementary feeding.
“These interventions were geared toward improving nutritional security of under-five children, pregnant and lactating women, as well as promoting nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life,” he said.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed represented by the Deputy Director, CRIB, Mr Olumide Osanyinpeju stated that there is the need to raise awareness and understanding on the problem of malnutrition in the country.
“Malnutrition is a large burden to a country, and tackling it entails empowering and educating people. Improved nutrition is key to improved national and human development team and this can be done by educating the populace and creating a positive approach towards nutrition,” he said.
“We must design the strategic objectives of improving food security at the national, community and household levels. To reduce malnutrition among infants and children, adolescents and women of reproductive age; to significantly reduce micronutrients deficiency disorders, especially among the vulnerable group and to increase knowledge of nutrition among the populace and nutrition education into formal and informal trainings.”