Living in fear and hunger, some quarter million Nigerians forced from their homes this year by an Islamic uprising are surviving in the bush, overcrowded with relatives and friends or in squalid camps where 500 share one latrine, a new report says.
The National Emergency Management Agency describes dire conditions for people already traumatized by the loss of loved ones, belongings, homes and livelihoods in northeast Nigeria.
In all, more than 3 million people — a third of the population — are suffering from the insurgency that has killed thousands and driven tens of thousands of farmers from their land, the agency said in the first report on the humanitarian plight created by the insurgency in Nigeria. It was made available to The Associated Press on Thursday.
“The fabric of society is being torn apart, with the increase of female-headed households, unaccompanied children, and the most vulnerable being left behind,” it says of a March assessment of the crisis in the three northeastern states covering one-sixth of the West African nation. It says nearly every community visited by researchers reported caring for children whose parents have been killed, or who lost them in the panic of escaping attacks by Islamic militants.
Children, elderly people and women are most affected.
The Borne-Yobe People’s Forum of concerned citizens warned Thursday of “the brewing humanitarian crisis in the northeast” saying that “without adequate water, food, and medical supplies the displaced persons have been rendered destitute.”
The Emergency Management Agency says health services have collapsed in many areas, epidemics are likely, and food shortages will worsen as refugees say they are getting by on one meal a day.
“Sanitation conditions are horrendous, with an average of 500 persons per latrine” instead of the recommended 50, in most affected areas, it said.
Many camps have no latrines at all, forcing camp residents to use the bush, or plastic bags and pieces of newspaper. There are no refuse bins, communal refuse pits or bathing areas. People have to bath and collect water for cooking from streams.
The government agency said it has tried to help, driving in tanks of water and giving away mattresses, cooking pots and other emergency goods. But “the needs of the affected population are increasing by the day,” it says, appealing for help.
The report’s figures apply only to people forced from their homes between January and March this year, as the militants have stepped up their campaign with attacks becoming more frequent and deadlier. Attacks that four years ago targeted Christians and government workers have become indiscriminate, with fighters shootings Muslims and Christians in attacks that have torched thousands of thatch-roofed mud huts. Schools also have become a frequent target over the past year. Hundreds of students have been shot, had their throats slit with machetes or been burned alive in locked dormitories.
The Emergency Management Agency says few of the refugees it interviewed plan to return home until there is security, and even fewer say they have seeds left to plant if they could return to their fields.
The U.N. refugee agency estimates 470,000 people are displaced in the country and another 30,000 have sought refuge in neighboring countries in recent years.