Rising violence in Zamfara state is stoking a humanitarian crisis, according to international medical charity Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF).
The international medical organization said the area was dominated by hunger and diseases.
The MSF made this known in a statement issued from a hospital it supported in Anka, Zamfara State.
The group’s Head of Mission in Nigeria, Froukje Pelsma, in the statement, said, the lives of people in North-West Nigeria are now dominated by hunger, abuse and preventable diseases.
“What is happening here is a humanitarian emergency that needs urgent attention and a proper response. The authorities and all relevant stakeholders should assume their responsibilities towards affected communities.”
The MSF’s Dr Godwin Emudanohwo, stated that the crisis in Zamfara State was more pathetic.
He stated, “Our teams in Zamfara State have witnessed an alarming rise in preventable illnesses associated with a lack of food, drinking water, shelter and vaccinations.
“Children keep on arriving here (in the hospital) in a very bad condition. In the first four months of 2021, our teams in Anka, Zurmi and Shinkafi treated 10,300 children for severe acute malnutrition, measles, malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory infections. This is 54 per cent higher than last year.”
The group, therefore, called for an urgent humanitarian response for people in the region who were desperately short of food, drinking water, shelter, protection and basic services, including healthcare.
It stated that what began as occasional clashes between farmers and herders competing over increasingly scarce land and water resources had evolved into violence by armed groups, who used kidnapping and plundering as a lucrative source of income.
According to MSF teams, people who make it to MSF health facilities usually say that the surge in violence has driven them to flee their homes, farms and grazing lands
They said some had sought protection in Zamfara’s larger towns, such as Anka, where they were sheltering in camps, both formal and informal.
The MSF teams also described the living conditions in the camps as dire, with no regular food distributions or proper shelter, and with insufficient water and sanitation facilities.
According to them, other people have stayed in villages, too afraid to travel on insecure roads and delaying their trips to seek healthcare or fulfil other basic needs.
According to the group, a woman identified as Halima, stated, “There’s hardly any food to give my children.”
The MSF said Halima’s two children were being treated for severe acute malnutrition by the MSF in Anka hospital.
The woman stated, “We can no longer grow crops because criminals attack our farms. Two of my children got measles and were growing very thin. The roads are very dangerous but I had to risk our lives and bring them to the hospital. The last time their elder sister got measles, I decided it was too late to travel by road and bring her to the hospital. She had complications and now she is blind.”
The MSF disclosed that in February 2021, there were more than 124,000 displaced people living in Zamfara State, according to the International Organisation for Migration, which is an increase of more than 12,000 since August 2020.
In Anka town alone, MSF said its teams had counted more than 14,000 displaced people, with around 1,599 arrivals in the past four months.
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“We had to flee our grazing lands and most of our cattle were stolen,” said Nana, who was sheltering in a camp for displaced people on the edge of Anka. “Now there’s very little for us to eat. I make a living by selling cows’ milk to local people.”
The MSF’s Emudanohwo stated, “The 150 beds in MSF’s paediatric ward in Anka hospital are already full, but staff fear the worst has yet to come. We are currently running out of bed capacity in Anka hospital.
“Families tell us they won’t be able to farm for the new season, which means a new cycle of hunger. And the rainy season is yet to start, when malaria and other seasonal diseases increase. People here need food, safe water and vaccinations.”
The group added that reports of kidnappings, killings, armed robbery and sexual violence had multiplied.
“From January to April, our teams in Zamfara have received over 100 survivors of sexual violence,” said MSF’s Dr Noble Nma, medical activity manager in Shinkafi, where the MSF runs a clinic for survivors of sexual violence.
Nma stated, “Women and sometimes men are abducted by armed men and subjected to violation for a few weeks before being returned to their community. This is in addition to the violence faced by women within the community itself.”
He said there was fear of travelling along dangerous roads as rape survivors often sought support when it was late.
He stated, “The survivors are afraid to take the roads, so they usually arrive at our clinics too late to prevent sexually transmitted infections and serious mental trauma.
“They tell us that there are more survivors out there who are afraid to travel here, so we fear that we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg.”
MSF Head of Mission in Nigeria, Pelsma, said, “What is happening here is a humanitarian emergency that needs urgent attention and a proper response. The authorities and all relevant stakeholders should assume their responsibilities towards affected communities.”