By Gift Olivia Samuel, The Sight News
North east Nigeria has witnessed immense violence and disaster, since insurgents struck in 2009—leading to the death of so many Nigerians as well as children and with this, came other problems such as shortage of food, increase in the number of out-of-school children as well as Malnutrition.
Insurgency in the north east, has contributed to the high rate of child malnutrition, as many families have been displaced and communities destabilized—preventing mothers and children from accessing good nutrition. Children in the north east now have little or nothing to eat, as farmers can no longer access their farmlands due to fear of kidnap and even death—and when food is made available, it usually lacks the proper nutrition required by growing children to live a normal and healthy life.
Malnutrition, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is the gravest single threat to global public health. Globally, it contributes to 45 percent of deaths of children aged under 5 years. WHO also pointed out that, 462 million people worldwide are malnourished, and stunted development due to poor diet affects 159 million children globally.
Malnutrition, occurs when a person does not receive adequate nutrients from diet and this causes damage to the vital organs and functions of the body, and in the north east, lack of food is the major cause of malnutrition.
According to the UNICEF Conceptual Framework on Malnutrition, the underlying causes of malnutrition are; insufficient household food security, inadequate maternal and child care and insufficient health services, and unhealthy environment but insurgency in the north east, has been fingered as the main driver of malnutrition.
Insurgency Driving Malnutrition in the North East.
The north east, is one of the geopolitical zones of Nigeria, consisting of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe states and these states have been hit by the insurgents in different ways. In the three states of Adamawa, Yobe and Borno that have been affected by the ongoing conflict, UNICEF notes that one in every five children is severely malnourished. It further noted that an estimated 940, 000 children aged 6 to 59 months across these states are acutely malnourished—440,000 with Severe Acute Malnutrition and 500,000 with moderate Acute Malnutrition.
This was part of the reasons a Nutrition Expert, Dr. Omotola Bamidele in an interview, said, that as a result of malnutrition, 25 million children under age five in Nigeria are wasting and 10 million children in the country are stunting—with a greater part of this figure from the north east.
He lamented that the insurgency in the north east, as a result of the Boko Haram crisis, further worsened the problem of malnutrition in the region, as people could no longer go to their farms— which contributed to food scarcity and destroyed means of livelihood of many people.
Dr. Bamidele, warned that children with severe form of acute malnutrition have nine fold risk of death compared to well nourished children, adding that one in five children with severe acute malnutrition cases would die, if treatment is not provided at the right time.
“The north east are states under a state of emergency and emergency requires immediate action. These 400,000 children that are on the verge of death, they need to be revived. They(government), should not make them become death figures for mortality—these are the number of children that died, No! He emphasized. “And that’s why something needs to be done fast about it. We know what they need, but there are no adequate resources to meet it”.
According to a presentation by the Nutrition expert at a media dialogue in Yola, Adamawa state in December 2018, insurgency has resulted to—high food insecurity, sub optimal infant and young children feeding practices such as untargeted /uncontrolled infant formular distribution, negative coping strategies, increasing spread of endemic diseases, low coverage of programmes targeting children with moderate acute malnutrition, limited dietary diversity, loss of livelihoods , disruption of access to quality water and optimal sanitation, population displacement and destruction of housing , compromising the privacy necessary for breast feeding, and nutritional care as well as the poor and deteriorating healthcare system.
Effect of Malnutrition on Children in North East Nigeria.
Malnutrition, has a lot of adverse effect on the child, such as— increased vulnerability to disease, developmental delays, stunted growth and sometimes blindness. These children have a high tendency of not achieving success in school as well as pursuing meaningful work in adulthood.
Other effects of malnutrition are; changes in body mass, poor wound healing, severe weight loss (cachexia), organ failure among other effects and a child suffering from malnutrition becomes wasted—thinner than normal, stunted—shorter than normal or sometimes, such children become both wasted and stunted—thinner and shorter than normal.
Also, chronic malnutrition can cause growth retardation (low height for age) and emaciation( low weight for height) and may affect the cognitive functioning of children and full potential in school as well as their future employment opportunities and income—which could lead to poverty.
Meeting SDG Goal 2: Zero Hunger
The United Nations Development programme, Sustainable Development Goal 2: Zero hunger which aims to—End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture— shows that extreme hunger and malnutrition remain a huge barrier to development in many countries.
The SDGs aim to end all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030, making sure all people – especially children – have access to sufficient and nutritious food all year round. This involves promoting sustainable agricultural practices: supporting small scale farmers and allowing equal access to land, technology and markets.
This Goal, targets to: End hunger by 2030 and ensure access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round; and by 2030, end all forms of malnutrition, including achieving, by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under 5 years of age, and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women and older persons
With the precarious situation in the north east which has dislodged many farmers from agriculture, and the daily increase in the number of children suffering from malnutrition as well as those relapsing into Severe Acute Malnutrition(SAM), it is unsure if Nigeria will catch up with the rest of the world in meeting these targets by 2030.
Prevention and Way forward
To prevent malnutrition, children need to consume a range of nutrients from a variety of food types. There should be a balanced intake of carbohydrates, fats, protein, vitamins, and minerals, as well as plenty of fluids, and especially water. However, to prevent high rate of Malnutrition in the north east, the federal, state and local government as well as collaborating donor agencies, need to come together to achieve this all important objective.
On its part, UNICEF has been collaborating with Nigeria’s government at federal, state and local levels, as well as communities to invest massive efforts to end malnutrition and save lives. UNICEF is also working to promote breastfeeding, to increase the global rate of exclusive breast feeding for infants to at least 50 per cent. The Fund is as well, rapidly responding to Severe Acute Malnutrition(SAM) in the north east, through the distribution of life-saving therapeutic foods to help children recover from SAM.
The Fund, which recognises that a child’s most significant development takes place during the first 1,000 days, works with governments, communities and families themselves to prioritize nutrition as a central part of early childhood development.
On the way forward, Dr. Bamidele remarked that there is a great need for capacity as the health services are already destroyed. “These are the reasons— when people are talking about the north east and north west, the difference, is that there is massive destruction going on in the north east which is not going on in the north west.
“The nutrition situation in the north west could be as bad or even worse than the north east, but there is no destruction going on in the north west. But, the consequences of not doing anything in the north east, is what we are saying that we need to cry out now”.
Although the Nigerian government has been working to end insurgency in the north east— which has claimed so many lives and left thousands homeless, more needs to be done by the government through the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), alongside the international community and donor agencies, to ensure that Nigerians in the north east who have become victims in the crises—have access to the right food and also ensure that children who have been caught in the web of violence do not also face malnutrition which on its own, is a silent killer.
Nigerian government must increase its investment in child nutrition and as well ensure early release of funds committed to end malnutrition,so as to grow healthy babies and save these children from poverty in adulthood.
An end to insurgency will see a return to agriculture, healthy living and in turn, drastic reduction in malnutrition in the north east. It is a collective responsibility of Nigerians, the stakeholders and the government to make necessary investments needed to save children, especially in the north east from Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM).