Catastrophic malnutrition crisis in northwest Nigeria demands international response

Nutritional crisis in northwest Nigeria

Nigeria 2022 © George Osodi/MSF

UN’s 2023 humanitarian response plan for Nigeria must address extraordinarily high numbers of children with malnutrition in northwest region

NEW YORK/ABUJA, SEPTEMBER 27, 2022—As the malnutrition crisis in northwest Nigeria continues at catastrophic levels, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is calling for the humanitarian community to immediately respond to the emergency needs of people in the region. Additionally, northwest Nigeria must be included in the UN’s humanitarian response plan so actors that rely on UN funding can also provide aid to the region, said MSF in advance of a UN meeting in Abuja tomorrow to discuss its 2023 program plan.

Since the beginning of 2022, MSF teams have witnessed extraordinarily high numbers of children with malnutrition in MSF’s programs located in five states across northwest Nigeria. Multiple factors have led to a sharp increase in malnutrition in the region over the last year.

“With increasing insecurity, climate change, and global inflation of food prices in a post-pandemic world, we can only imagine this crisis getting worse,” said Dr. Simba Tirima, MSF country representative in Nigeria. “The Nigerian authorities need support to deal with a crisis of this magnitude. This must include emergency humanitarian funding now for organizations able to respond and a commitment to include northwest Nigeria in the UN’s humanitarian response plan for 2023.”

Since January, MSF teams working in collaboration with the Nigerian health authorities have treated close to 100,000 children with acute malnutrition in 34 outpatient facilities and admitted about 17,000 children requiring hospital care in 10 inpatient centers in Kano, Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto, and Kebbi states. In Zamfara state—one of the areas most affected by ongoing violence and banditry—teams recorded a 64 percent increase in the numbers of severely malnourished children treated in the outpatient nutritional departments supported by MSF from January to August 2022 when compared to January to August 2021.

MSF’s nutritional surveys have also underlined the severity of the crisis, including in areas that are less affected by violence and insecurity. In Mashi local government area in Katsina state MSF found a 27.4 percent rate of global acute malnutrition and a 7.1 percent rate of severe acute malnutrition in June. These rates were found even though the community has been relatively spared from violence and forced displacement and indicate a critical emergency.

The UN’s current humanitarian response plan for Nigeria focuses on the critical situation in the country’s northeast region, excluding the northwest. Unlike MSF, which is not funded by the humanitarian response plan, many organizations are currently unable to respond to the acute needs in the northwest because they rely on it for funding.

“We understand the UN, donors, and other stakeholders are increasingly aware of the extent of the crisis in the northwest, but there is a need to go beyond discussions,” said Froukje Pelsma, MSF head of mission in Nigeria. “It’s essential that the northwest is included in the next Nigeria humanitarian response plan for 2023 because this plays a key role in mobilizing the resources to save lives.”