MAIDUGURI, NIGERIA —
A delegation of United Nations Security Council ambassadors went to the epicenter of the Boko Haram insurgency on Sunday, visiting displaced persons (IDPs) in a camp in Maiduguri, Nigeria.
The ambassadors were on a four-day trip to the Lake Chad Basin, going to Cameroon, Chad and Niger. They arrived in Maiduguri under heavy security, as the latest suicide attack by Boko Haram happened just two days earlier. Three bombers blew themselves up Friday outside a gasoline station, killing themselves but not hurting any civilians.
The diplomats met with women living in an IDP camp that houses about 7,000 people and heard their stories of being widowed, terrorized and abused by the terrorists who have waged an insurgency in northeast Nigeria since 2009.
Deputy U.S. United Nations Ambassador Michele Sison – the only female envoy in the delegation – has been a vocal advocate for the protection and empowerment of women and girls in the Lake Chad Basin during the council's mission.
"I'm coming away with just two words in my brain – protection and access," she said. "Protection because I'm hearing stories not only of these families, and these women victimized, their children victimized, by Boko Haram, but then the protection needs – especially of women and girls – not only inside the camp, but also if they have to go outside, either for firewood or to seek some sort of an income-generating activity."
U.S. Deputy UN Ambassador Michelle Sison talks to women in the Maiduguri camp. (M.Besheer/VOA)
Ambassador Sison said the access issue is related to aid deliveries. The U.N. says some 700,000 people in eight local government areas are still inaccessible to humanitarians.
More than five million people are food insecure in parts of the northeast. At the IDP camp, many residents said aid distribution is not enough to feed their large families.
"We are suffering from hunger," one woman said. "Our children are dying from that…Sometimes at the end of the month, sometimes I don't have food, and I will manage to go and beg small [amounts]."
The United Nations warned that about 2 million people in parts of the northeast could face famine conditions in the coming months if donors do not step up.
"There is no famine right now in the northeast, but we are really, really playing with a fire unless we continue to ensure that these people are getting steady assistance on a regular basis, and it is a struggle," said Peter Lundberg, the U.N. Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator for northeast Nigeria. "Right now the food operations here cost $1 million per day."
He said countries need to quickly follow through on their pledges from last month's humanitarian summit in Oslo, which raised more than $450 million for this year to help affected populations in the Lake Chad Basin.