Notes on the Global Condition: All The Children Are Gone

The unfolding economic crisis in Nigeria has been registering in emerging market news for a while. But a few days ago a headline caught my eye and I have not been able to stop thinking about it since. It concerns the war zone between Northern Nigeria’s Borno State, Chad and Niger.

Late in 2016 Joanne Liu international president of Médecins Sans Frontières issued this statement about Nigeria’s Borno State where the Boko Haram insurgency was at its most intense: 

“We have recently returned from a visit to Nigeria’s Borno State. Amid the hunger and displacement, we saw that something else was terribly wrong. In the three places that we visited, there were hardly any children under 5 years of age. Almost none. They were missing from the therapeutic feeding centers that we had set up to treat the malnutrition that often afflicts them. They were missing from our inpatient wards. They were missing from our outpatient consultation lists. There are almost always small children buzzing around the camps that get set up for internally displaced persons. While the circumstances vary among the locations where our medical teams work in Borno State, the absence of young children remained constant in the places we visited. We saw only older brothers and sisters. No toddlers straddling their big sisters’ hips. No babies strapped to their mothers’ backs. It was as if they had vanished.”

The children have disappeared!

Due to chaotic and dangerous conditions, MSF cannot be certain, but the fear is that an entire cohort of infants and young children have perished of malnutrition and disease since fighting in the region intensified massively in 2013 and 2014. During the anti insurgency campaign, large parts of Borno State were cut off and left to starve. MSF warns that: “A lack of food and essential nutrients has led to unprecedented malnutrition rates. Malnutrition can wipe out a person’s resistance to common diseases, particularly among the very young and the very old. Not surprisingly, then, an outbreak of measles is spreading unchecked, the rains have brought malaria, and diarrhea and acute respiratory failure are taking a frightful toll. The result is that a portion of this population has indeed been largely wiped out.” At MSF’s clinics 50 % of children under 5 are coming in acutely malnourished.

26,000 have been killed in fighting against Boko Haram since 2011. 20,000 in Borno State. at its height the insurgency occupied territories affecting 15 m people with 2 m displaced. Population of the capital city of Borno State Maiduguri has doubled in size as 1 million refugees have flooded in. 400,000 remain in camps, where the worst deprivation seems to be concentrated.

In late 2014 MSF was fighting a major cholera outbreak in the region.

‘A World Bank report released in March estimated that the insurgency had caused $5.9 billion worth of damage in Borno state alone; this included destroying almost a million homes, (30 % OF THE TOTAL) more than 5,000 classrooms and school buildings and over 200 health centers. In an interview with AFP on Thursday, Borno state governor Kashim Shettima said that unemployment was as high as 35 percent in some parts of the state, and that 49,000 children had been left orphaned by the fighting.”

The Nigerian state has been slow to respond to the crisis. An official state of emergency was declared in the summer: “Some reports claim up to 376 people have been buried in the last three months and described those alive as “walking corpses.””

But as the NYT and Guardian reports the Nigerian government is reluctant to admit the need for aid. It accuses aid agencies of hyping the story to raise funds.

MSF sees a crisis unfolding not just in Nigeria but across the entire region: “As a result of the conflict, 2.6 million people are displaced and 480,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition across the four countries (Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger) according to OCHA.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Government has announced a major crude oil find in Borno State which may transform the region into a major crude producer alongside the Delta states.

related posts