As UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Orlando Bloom meets children and families affected by Boko Haram violence on Niger trip
Almost 1.4 million children are at imminent risk of death from severe acute malnutrition this year, as famine looms in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, UNICEF said today.
“Time is running out for more than a million children,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “We can still save many lives. The severe malnutrition and looming famine are largely man-made. Our common humanity demands faster action. We must not repeat the tragedy of the 2011 famine in the Horn of Africa.”
In northeast Nigeria, the number of children with severe acute malnutrition is expected to reach 450,000 this year in the conflict-affected states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobi. Fews Net, the famine early warning system that monitors food insecurity, said late last year that famine likely occurred in some previously inaccessible areas of Borno states, and that it is likely ongoing, and will continue, in other areas which remain beyond humanitarian reach.
In Somalia, drought conditions are threatening an already fragile population battered by decades of conflict. Almost half the population, or 6.2 million people, are facing acute food insecurity and in need of humanitarian assistance. Some 185,000 children are expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition this year, however this figure is expected to rise to 270,000 in the next few months.
In South Sudan, a country reeling from conflict, poverty and insecurity, over 270,000 children are severely malnourished. Famine has just recently been declared in parts of Unity State in the northern central part of the country, where 20,000 children live. The total number of food insecure people across the country is expected to rise from 4.9 million to 5.5 million at the height of the lean season in July if nothing is done to curb the severity and spread of the food crisis.
And in Yemen, where a conflict has been raging for the past two years, 462,000 children are currently suffering from severe acute malnutrition – a nearly 200 per cent increase since 2014.
This year, UNICEF is working with partners to provide therapeutic treatment to 220,000 severely malnourished children in Nigeria, over 200,000 severely malnourished children in South Sudan, more than 200,000 severely malnourished children in Somalia, and 320,000 children in Yemen.
Also in the news this week, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Orlando Bloom travelled to Diffa, south-east Niger, to highlight the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Lake Chad Basin where Boko Haram violence has caused huge population displacements. Hundreds of thousands of children across the region have been forced from their homes, are out of education and at risk of malnutrition.
In areas affected by the violence in Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon, 2.3 million people are now displaced, making this one of the fastest growing displacement crises in Africa. The Diffa region currently hosts over 240,000 internally displaced persons, refugees and returnees – including 160,000 children.
“As a father, it is hard for me to imagine how many of these children are caught up in this conflict. During my trip I have heard dreadful stories about children fleeing on foot, leaving everything behind, including the safety of their homes and classrooms,” said Bloom, who first travelled to see UNICEF’s work in 2007.
Bloom met with children such as 14-year-old Amada Goni who has been living with his family in Garin Wazam, a camp for displaced persons. When the crisis began, many of Amada’s friends joined Boko Haram, some voluntarily, others not. He opened up to Bloom about the terrible nightmares he has and how he still doesn’t feel safe since his village was attacked eight months ago. Amada now goes to the UNICEF-supported psychosocial support unit every day where he gets help to deal with the trauma he faced and where he has met new friends.
“When I go there to play, I feel good, I feel relieved, I feel much better. It helps with the nightmares,” he told Bloom.
“It is extremely hard to comprehend this situation when you are not there. I saw the depth of the pain and suffering these kids are going through. This is not something any child should experience,” said Bloom. “However it was amazing to witness the smile on Amada’s face as he played basketball with his friends. This is the result of UNICEF’s work.”
“So many children in Niger and across the Lake Chad region have been uprooted by this crisis,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “They have suffered unimaginable violence and abuse, they have lost their families, their homes and missed out on years of education. What these children need most is an end to the violence, and until that is possible, we must do all we can to support them in rebuilding their lives.”
During his time in Niger, Bloom also visited Bosso on the border of Nigeria where he met 13-year-old Eta, who fled with her family when her house was burned by Boko Haram. Now attending a temporary school opened by UNICEF, she dreams of becoming a doctor, working for the well-being of her community.
“This visit has been extremely moving. Every single child I met is affected by this conflict and in desperate need of basic services such as clean water, psychological care and education to help them recover from the atrocities they have suffered and witnessed. They deserve a childhood,” said Bloom.
UNICEF and its partners in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger have increased the level of assistance to thousands of families in the region, with access to safe water, education, counselling and psychosocial support, as well as vaccines and treatment for malnutrition. However, a shortage of funding and difficult access due to insecurity have hindered the delivery of humanitarian assistance to thousands of children in need.