IDP camp in Maiduguri, Borno state
Nigeria

Northeast Nigeria: Now is not the time to question lifesaving assistance

Abuja – The conflict in northeast Nigeria continues, with Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states in need of a massive and sustained humanitarian response. A decade of conflict has disrupted the lives of millions of people almost to a point where violence, abuse, and deprivation has become normalised.  Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) remains committed to providing high quality medical assistance to the people of northeast Nigeria and stresses that aid must be delivered impartially and neutrally to all in need, in line with international humanitarian law.

Widespread medical needs, but little access

Serious medical needs remain widespread in northeast Nigeria, while essential items and clean drinking water are scarce; in the first half of 2019 alone, our teams admitted more than 15,000 patients on an emergency basis, treated over 8,000 patients for malaria, ensured 2,446 safe deliveries and vaccinated 9,117 people against measles.

Humanitarians, by definition, strive to reach the most vulnerable people in need. However, today, we are only able to reach a part of these people. Nearly one million people remain in areas with no access to much-needed assistance due to ongoing hostilities, impassable roads or restrictions on the movement of people, aid and goods.

IDP camp in Maiduguri, Borno state
A mother visits an MSF mobile health clinic, where her child is screened for malnutrition, in a displaced people's camp in Maiduguri, Borno state. Nigeria, August 2019.
Yuna Cho/MSF

People reliant on aid – that can’t always reach them

Inside government-controlled areas, hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people are entirely dependent on humanitarian aid for survival. Disruptions of humanitarian assistance, including food aid, have life-threatening consequences, particularly for the most vulnerable. This, along with continued insecurity in the area that prevents people from farming or fishing, risks creating another nutrition crisis.

Even as people continue to bear the brunt of the decade-long conflict, aid organisations face limitations in caring for them. Humanitarian aid has been repeatedly targeted throughout the conflict, with aid workers killed, and recent forced suspensions of vital assistance amidst spurious accusations of NGOs furthering the conflict.

Humanitarian workers, medical staff, civilians are not a target

Humanitarian aid workers, medical staff and civilians in conflict zones are not party to the conflict, nor a target.

Following the statement<a href="https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/USG%20Lowcock%20-%20Statement%20on%20Borno%2C%20Nigeria%2025.10.19.pdf">UN OCHA - Statement on the humanitarian situation in Borno, northeast Nigeria</a> released today by the United Nations Under-Secretary General and Humanitarian Chief, MSF stresses that in times of conflict, humanitarian aid must be able to play its role in an independent, neutral and impartial manner. Not only does this guarantee the quality of assistance, but it also protects front line workers. These principles must be respected by all parties to the conflict, the Nigerian authorities, United Nations representatives and agencies, and international non-governmental organisations working in the northeast.

Today, the people of northeast Nigeria and humanitarian organisations seeking to care for them need more support than ever. We must urgently and collectively reassert the fundamentals of humanitarian action, and to protect the right of any individual in need to receive assistance.

Since the conflict in northeast Nigeria began in 2009, approximately 35,000 people have been killed, while 1.8 million people have been displaced from their homes and a further 230,000 people have fled to neighbouring Chad, Cameroon and Niger. MSF has worked continuously in Nigeria since 1996 and in northeast Nigeria since 2014 and will continue to provide lifesaving medical care for those in need, irrespective of race, religion, creed or political convictions. Today, the population of northeast Nigeria and humanitarian organisations seeking to care for them need more support than ever.

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Voices from the Field 16 October 2019