YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – As the security situation in Nigeria continues to get worse, the country is struggling to deal with the large numbers of internally displaced persons.
The Islamist militant group Boko Haram – which means “Western education is forbidden” – is still active in the northeast of the country, and a new extremist faction pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group has made a deadly resurgence in recent months, overrunning military bases in the northeast and raising questions about how much support Nigeria’s troops receive from the government.
Deadly clashes between largely Christian farmers and largely Muslim herders over increasingly scarce land also have wracked central Nigeria.
This violence, along with floods and other natural disasters, have forced over 2 million people from their homes in the country. International law makes a distinction between Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), who stay within their country of origin, and refugees, who flee to another country.
“Some 2.5 million people are now displaced. In Nigeria specifically, 7.1 million people are in need of urgent, life-saving humanitarian assistance,” Jerry Farrell told Crux.
Farrell is the deputy country representative for emergency response and recovery in North Eastern Nigeria for Catholic Relief Services, the international development arm of the U.S. bishops.
“The harsh conditions make life very difficult for displaced people. Sickness and disease can be triggered by lack of access to clean drinking water, hygienic latrines and nutritious meals, particularly for infants and children. Extremely high temperatures and arid conditions also contribute to the challenges for IDPs living in camps often built of makeshift shelters. Access to sufficient land for farming and shelter are also very challenging,” he explained.
Farrell said Catholic Relief Services has been trying to help by “providing access to clean drinking water, latrines and by promoting the importance of hygiene. In IDP communities where CRS operates, committees manage waste and often make compost for use by farmers.”
He noted that in the areas where CRS works, outbreaks of cholera have been minimized, “unlike many other areas of northeast Nigeria.”
He said his agency has also been providing emergency shelters especially designed for the harsh conditions of the Sahel region, the semi-arid area between the Sahara and sub-Saharan regions of Africa, and “drawing up agreements with landowners who are sheltering displaced communities so that IDPs are guaranteed a plot to attempt to rebuild their lives and livelihoods.”
In addition, CRS has been “piloting innovative nutritional programs that teach mothers how to produce a homemade-style Plumpy’Nut [an emergency supplement for severe malnutrition] to feed to their malnourished children. This program has shown impressive results and is being scaled up in northeast Nigeria.”
CRS also uses electronic vouchers for purchase of food and household items, giving beneficiaries more choice and strengthening local markets.
“The impact has been that thousands of displaced civilians and members of affected host communities in Northeast Nigeria are beginning to rebuild their lives and livelihoods with CRS’s support,” Farrell told Crux.
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari began his second term in office at the end of May and has pledged to bring security to the country of over 190 million, which is almost evenly split between Christians and Muslims.
The crisis affecting Northeast Nigeria is also hitting the other countries in the Lake Chad region: Chad, Cameroon, and Niger. Boko Haram and other militant groups often slip across porous borders, making tracking and fighting them difficult.
According to the UN’s International Organization for Migration, as of Feb. 20, 2019, the four countries were hosting an estimated 4.38 million IDPs, refugees, and other displaced people. The UN agency said 80 percent of the affected population were located in Nigeria, while 10 percent were in Cameroon, 6 percent in Niger and 4 percent in Chad.
International donors in October 2018 pledged over $2.17 billion to help fight the humanitarian crisis in the Lake Chad region.
The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR is working with the authorities to help displaced people and returning refugees regain a sense of normal life, but there are still areas where it is difficult for aid workers to access because of security concerns.
This article incorporated material from the Associated Press.
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