Seven years of war against Boko Haram militants have left
northeastern Nigeria in the grips of a humanitarian emergency. Borno
state has borne the brunt of the violence and is now feeling the pain of
an increasing food shortage.
More than a million Nigerians have fled to the Borno state capital,
Maiduguri, to escape the raids on villages, the suicide bombings, and
the military operations that have characterized the Boko Haram
Many of them live in shanty settlements where they have little access to food and clean water.
Across the city, people are squatting in abandoned fields, uncompleted buildings and under trees.
To survive, many rely on leaves they gather from the fields.
Sometimes they go two or three days without eating. It is not what they
“We came here to Maiduguri because of high expectations we had that
things will be better if we are here,” says Ya Falmata, an elderly woman
among the displaced.
She has set up a makeshift tent made of twigs and bamboo in the
middle of a field where more than 13,000 people are living, trying to
“They become malnourished because they do not eat and they are not
adequately fed. And there’s no food,” says Rebecca Smith, a nurse with
Doctors Without Borders. She sees some of the most extreme cases of
illness at a hospital that the organization has set up.
“These cases are malnourished children that come with respiratory
distress that needs O2 (oxygen) therapy, that needs blood transfusion,
that are very very sick. Common cases are from disease, problems like
measles, whooping cough,” Smith says.
Relief agencies have warned of a possible famine in parts of Borno
state, where fighting between government forces and Boko Haram has
discouraged farming and cut off some areas from outside aid.
In the local markets, the price of produce has increased because of
the food shortage. The government runs displaced persons camps, but not
enough for everyone who needs shelter. And some Nigerians say food
distribution in the camps is unfair. Makkah Mustafa, who lives in a
warehouse with dozens of other families, is one of them.
“We don’t know the reason why, but the distributors in the camps do
not distribute food to everyone. Some people will get [it]. Some people
Some help is slowly coming. A group of children are seen gathered
waiting for a food delivery truck from a local charity. They sing happy
songs from happier times. Their parents and guardians hope the happier
times will return.