The threat of famine looms large over North East Nigeria. Hundreds of thousands of children are on the brink of starvation, yet despite being one of the world’s deadliest crises, it is also its least reported. A new briefing from Save the Children has today unearthed the scale of the crisis.
Children in North East Nigeria are paying the heaviest price for seven years of brutal insurgency, which has intensified in recent months. Violence has forced a million children to flee their homes and schools. Many have seen friends and family killed, or been attacked and injured themselves.
But children are not just losing their lives in conflict, they are dying from hunger and disease. At the heart of this crisis is malnutrition; over 4.7 million people are currently in need of food assistance.
In a region already crippled by poverty, years of fighting and instability have created deadly food and water shortages and exacerbated the lack of basic healthcare. As is so often the case, it is children who are paying the price. Over 400,000 children face life-threatening hunger.
In spite of these horrors there is a small window of opportunity to stop things getting worse. Next week, the UN will launch its global humanitarian appeal. The response plan for Nigeria is likely to include a target of $1.2billion. World leaders must seize this moment and fully fund this appeal before it is too late.
What can the UK Government do?
Gratefully, this is a crisis where the UK has again shown global leadership. Not only is the Department for International Development stepping up its own response, they are working hard to encourage other countries to step up to the plate.
Britain has a long tradition in helping those in desperate need, and not only through our international aid budget. Last year, the British public raised £19 million in less than 24 hours for the Nepal Earthquake appeal. Responding to humanitarian crises is in our DNA. We must now work together to focus the world’s attention on the children of North East Nigeria, encouraging other countries to follow the UK’s lead and commit to meeting this appeal.
However, the ultimate responsibility rests with the Nigerian authorities – and President Buhari’s new government is working hard to respond. But decades of corruption have left Nigeria a much poorer, and more fragile country than it should be; in order to respond before it is too late, Nigeria needs global partners.
And as Buhari has rightly pointed out, UK tax havens have too often played a role in this corruption – their secret regimes have allowed money that belongs to Nigerian tax payers to be hidden offshore. While aid remains a critical life-line for the world’s poorest, the eradication of extreme poverty will not be possible without countries being able to stand on their own two feet and fight the corruption that deprives them of critical revenue. That is why so many of us who work in international development also campaign for an end to tax havens.
This is also why the UK Government is now prioritising corruption overseas, and is using our aid budget to strengthen countries’ domestic tax systems. As a result, the Government of Nigeria has an immediate opportunity to take back some of this money. In a recently signed Memorandum of Understanding the UK Government promised to expedite the return of stolen money captured in British territories, while the Government of Nigeria promised that they will spend this money on projects that benefit the poorest people.
Save the Children suggests that the Government of Nigeria use some of these stolen funds to accelerate their response to the impending famine. While the lives of children hang in the balance, we must look for every opportunity to tip the scales in their favour.