Conflict, Crisis and Hunger in
Northeast Nigeria

Northeast Nigeria remains the site of Africa’s largest humanitarian emergency, with more than 7.1 million people, 80% of whom are women and children, estimated to be in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. Of these, nearly 1.7 million face severe food insecurity.

This humanitarian crisis, with more than 2 million people driven from their communities inside Nigeria and more than 200,000 taking refuge in neighboring countries, has resulted in high rates of severe malnutrition due to food insecurity. In some areas, women and children will face famine conditions if humanitarian aid does not reach them. This is a constant concern because aid workers have become targets of the insurgents and cannot access areas under the control of organized armed opposition groups, including Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).

The insurgency also has spread across Nigeria’s northeast borders engulfing the Lake Chad Basin, which also includes Chad, Cameroon and Niger. Residents of these countries continue to experience violent attacks and displacement. The UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 17 million people are affected, including 3.3 million who are displaced from their homes.

In Need of Assistance

7.1 million

people in need of emergency assistance

internally displaced

2.2 million

people are internally displaced in the three northeast states

food insecurity

2.6 million

severely food insecure in Nigeria in November 2019

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is driving the crisis in northeast Nigeria?

    Armed groups—namely Boko Haram and the military’s counterinsurgency efforts—are the main drivers of the crisis. The ten-year conflict has forced people from their homes, destroying livelihoods, the economy and social norms. Families once able to feed and house themselves can no longer do so. As a result, 1.7 million people face severe food insecurity. The crisis can be felt throughout the Lake Chad Region, with economic activity declining due to insecurity and the large-scale exodus of the population. Across the region, one in every two families depends on humanitarian assistance to meet basic needs, and nearly 500,000 children under 5 are suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

  • Why is Nigeria at risk of famine?

    The constant displacement and instability has caused food production in northeast Nigeria to plummet. For example, Borno State, the current epicenter of the crisis, at one time produced 25% of the nation’s wheat.  It now produces none. Similarly, over the past 10 years, sorghum production in Borno has dropped by 82%, rice by 67% and millet by 55%, according to the International Crisis Group. Livestock has also been decimated and those animals remaining in the communities are often stolen by insurgents to fund the purchase of weapons and ammunition. Insurgent attacks and the military’s response have destroyed essential infrastructure, including hospitals, clinics and schools, as well as markets and trade routes. The survival of some people living in areas controlled by Boko Haram and other militant groups is hindered by the inability of humanitarian organizations, including International Medical Corps, to reach these areas with lifesaving assistance, leaving them particularly vulnerable to famine conditions.

  • What are the biggest humanitarian challenges?

    Access to populations in need remains a major challenge in Borno State. The insurgents’ sphere of control has increased and their capacity to conduct raids disrupting the lives of area residents and hampering humanitarian relief efforts has added to the challenges of providing food assistance, treatment for malnutrition and other services where the needs are the greatest. Currently, 50% of those displaced are living in official camps, and approximately 500,000 residents of Borno State are in need of shelter. This means that the majority of displaced persons live in host communities or in makeshift camps, which make them harder to identify, more difficult to protect and more difficult provide the basic assistance that they need to survive.

  • What specifically is International Medical Corps doing to help?

    International Medical Corps, which has worked in Nigeria since 2013, currently works in Kano and Borno states to provide healthcare; nutrition; water, sanitation and hygiene services; gender-based violence prevention and response; and food security/livelihoods support. These services, primarily targeting internally displaced persons (IDPs) in camps, provide lifesaving assistance to more than 65,000 people per month. Through the Core Group Partners Project for Polio Eradication, International Medical Corps also has been a key partner in the eradication of the Wild Polio Virus, targeting 10 focal Local Government Areas in one of the last endemic states in the country (Borno State) and six Local Government Areas in Kano State. We also are responding to the emergency needs of IDPs in Chad and Cameroon.

Help relieve hunger.

The Challenges

Widespread Food Insecurity

One in three families is food-insecure, and one in every two people needs urgent humanitarian assistance

Crisis Levels of Malnutrition

Nearly 500,000 children suffer from acute malnutrition in the Lake Chad region—the vast majority of them in northeast Nigeria

Famine Potential

Less-accessible areas of northeast Nigeria, particularly Borno State, are at risk of potential famine conditions

Our Response

International Medical Corps is responding needs involving nutrition, food security, protection, and water, hygiene and sanitation in conflict-affected communities in northeast Nigeria, including IDPs and host-community residents. Our response includes distributing food to an estimated 171,000 people in Borno State, as well as providing treatment for malnutrition in conflict-affected communities. We also train local residents to serve as community health volunteers and community health extension workers, equipping them with the skills to screen children for malnutrition, administer treatment (including providing ready-to-use therapeutic food) and follow up on their progress.

In Cameroon, International Medical Corps is delivering emergency medical, nutrition and mental health care services to Nigerian refugees in Minawao camp. We also are providing gender-based violence prevention and response, and child protection activities, for women, girls and boys in the camp, which is home to some 56,000 Nigerian refugees. In addition, we are responding to the needs of Cameroonians displaced by ongoing violence in the Far North Region of the country, providing them with medical care, nutrition services, disease surveillance, gender-based violence prevention and protection activities, and access to water and sanitation.

In Chad, International Medical Corps collaborates with the Ministry of Health to provide health centers with primary healthcare, maternal health and nutrition support to more than 20 health facilities in the Lac Region, where attacks from Boko Haram continue to compromise the well-being of local communities. Our services include managing the nutrition stabilization center at Bagasola Hospital and offering medical and nutrition services to Nigerian refugees in in Dar es Salam camp.

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