The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has raised alarm of increase in the level of malnutrition in the crisis-affected northeast of Nigeria.
The Red Cross blamed the spike in food prices for the increase.
The humanitarian organisation in a press statement said: “The acute food insecurity and malnutrition situation in Nigeria is deteriorating as economic crisis continue to deprive millions of people affected by the protracted conflict in the northeast from accessing food.”
The statement added that: “Consecutive shocks to the economy – including a 300 percent increase in fuel prices due to the removal of the petrol subsidy and the devaluation of the Nigerian Naira by more than 75%, have caused sudden and sustained spikes in the cost of transportation, staple food prices, agricultural production, and basic services, while the inflation rate reaching an 18-year high of 26.72% percent in September.
In the statement, a trader in Gwoza town, Borno state, Abubakar Isa, was quoted to have said: “Before now, a bag of maize sold at N40,000, but now it sells at N70,000. We were selling one measure between N400 – N500, but now it sells between N1,000 – N1,200,” adding that: “This is due to the high cost of fuel, and if we complain to the drivers, they say prices of fuel as well as motor spare parts are now high.”
The statement said with the lifting of fuel subsidies, the average cost of food items in Borno State had increased by 36% and transportation fares by 78%. As a result, thousands of families, especially the internally displaced, can no longer afford to buy the same quality and quantity of food as before, contributing to poor diet and insufficient nutritious food intake. Income levels and labour opportunities have either reduced or remained the same in Borno State since the fuel subsidy removal.
The statement further said over a decade of conflict in the northeast continues to disrupt livelihood and market activities as well as driving new displacement, preventing access to food production, health services and water and sanitation facilities. 2.2 million people continue to be displaced across the northeast, while 4.3 million are still in need of food assistance. As of August 2023, 1.53 million children under 5 were acutely malnourished in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states.
It started that as the economic crisis rages, more families are coping through erosion of their livelihoods (such as the sale of productive assets) and the adoption of crisis strategies (mainly a high reliance on aid). Furthermore, families are increasingly experiencing a vicious debt cycle. They are taking on higher debt levels every month and maxing out their credit levels to cover basic needs. With such levels of negative coping strategies, many families are precariously exposed, and any sudden shocks at unprecedented levels would further worsen food insecurity and lead to acute malnutrition at extreme levels.
Abubakar lamented that: “We were eating 2-3 time daily, but now we have difficulties in having breakfast. Not to talk of water for drinking,” adding that: “Our children have been sent back from school because we could not pay for their books.”
The statement said in addition, smallholding farmers struggled with higher costs of seed, fertilizer, and other farm inputs. As a coping strategy, some farmers reduced the amount of land they cultivated during the growing season.
It revealed that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been recording a steady increase in number of admissions of children under the age of five suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) in its supported health facilities in the northeast. Between 2020 and 2023, the number of new admissions has more than doubled. This annual trend, correlated with the increase in the prevalence of malnutrition, food insecurity and the number of cases of childhood illnesses, could indicate a gradual deterioration in the nutritional situation in the areas of intervention of these health structures, despite the efforts made to improve access to integrated care. From January to September 2023, more than 6,000 Severely Malnourished under 5 children and over 10,000 malnourished Pregnant and Lactating Women have received nutrition treatment at ICRC supported health facilities in the northeast.
Deputy Coordinator of the ICRC`s economic security programme in Nigeria. Ghulam Muhaiuddin Sayad, said: “Day to day, the rate of malnutrition is increasing as people no longer have access to diversified and nutritious food,” noting that: “Many people, especially children, are experiencing malnutrition-related illnesses.”
According to the Integrated Food Security Classification in August 2023, acute malnutrition is particularly prevalent among people newly arriving from inaccessible areas in the northeast, with the overall Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) rates of 19.3 percent. The high levels of acute malnutrition indicate an extremely stressed population in relation to food insecurity, poor water, and sanitation access, and poor health conditions, which have led to a high disease burden.
The statement said the ICRC, along with its partner the Nigerian Red Cross Society (NRCS), has been supporting the most vulnerable, particularly in the northeast, with cash to purchase food or to commence small-scale businesses. This year, more than 13,187 families benefited from ICRC`s cash assistance until September 2023. In addition, 41,000 farming families received staple and cash crop seeds to improve food production during the rainy season, while 57,000 people, including pregnant and lactating women and children under five, received food rations and supplementary feeding to prevent malnutrition. Another sustainable support was provided to 300 farmers in Plateau state through the donation of 138 pumps to improve irrigation during the dry season.