Becoming Sick in Rann, Nigeria, is “Almost a Death Sentence”

The town of Rann in northern Nigeria was hit by an aerial bombardment on January 17, 2017. The Nigerian armed forces have claimed responsibility for the strike, which  killed at least 90 people and injured hundreds. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was providing medical care in Rann at the time of the bombardment. Teams have recently returned to deliver much-needed medical and humanitarian aid to the people there. MSF Project Coordinator Silas Adamou describes the situation in Rann.

Critical lack of health care, water, and shelter

The living conditions are terrible. People are living outdoors in makeshift shelters and survive on less than five liters of water each per day. That is far below recommended standards. People have no other choice but to collect water from muddy puddles. We treat many patients for diseases like diarrhea because people get sick from drinking the water.

The humanitarian situation in Rann is becoming increasingly critical as newly displaced people continue to arrive. The most urgent needs now are health care, shelter and water. There are no functional permanent health facilities in the town and there is no capacity to treat people who need hospital care. Insecurity makes it too dangerous to travel elsewhere for care. Falling sick in Rann is almost a death sentence.

Continuous flow of newly displaced

What is really striking is the daily influx of newly displaced people. Shelters made of straw are scattered everywhere. There is no space left in the town, there are even shelters in the middle of the road. If more people arrive, I don’t know where they will go. People have lost their homes—everything. They bring the only valuables they have left: cooking pots and kitchen utensils. They have nothing else.

Reign of fear

Fear reigns over the whole population. Adults and children start running in panic whenever a helicopter flies over. People are afraid of further attacks from the sky and they are also afraid of Boko Haram violence.  They say they feel trapped in the middle of fire.

Mothers tell us how their children wake up at night and cry without reason.  Adults tell us they have difficulties sleeping as they worry about their safety and future.

MSF activities in Rann

Insecurity and remoteness make it extremely difficult for humanitarian organizations to provide assistance in Rann on a regular basis. MSF delivers aid only when access is possible. We conduct general health consultations, mainly for women and children. The main illnesses are linked to the living conditions and lack of water.

We also screen and treat children for malnutrition and vaccinate them against measles. Our teams have been working to improve the water supply, but the needs are bigger than the relief effort.

Massive needs, limited access

When the rainy season starts in a few months, Rann will get completely cut off again, as the roads become unusable and the town becomes surrounded by swamps. Humanitarian needs are already massive, but the situation is likely to get much worse when the rains start. Rann will become an island and people will be totally trapped.

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