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Hunger Stalks Thousands of Displaced in Nigeria’s Maiduguri

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 insurgency.

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 expected.

“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 survive.

Talk of famine

“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 will not.”

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.