The challenge of internal displacements – Thisday

Internally displaced persons are increasingly becoming desperate. They need shelter from the storm

The scale of forced displacements in the Northeast is triggering a complex humanitarian emergency. Last week some 65,000 people fled Damasak in the fringes of Lake Chad, Borno State, after series of attacks which claimed many lives. The insurgents looted and burnt private homes, warehouses of humanitarian agencies, police stations and health centres. The attacks were a setback for Borno State Governor, Babagana Zulum who had been striving hard to return almost two million displaced persons to their ancestral homes. More disturbing is the situation in Chad following the killing last week, by rebels, of President Idriss Deby and the power struggle that is bound to ensue in the weeks and months ahead.

The Damasak attacks affirmed the alarm raised last week by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) over rising cases of displacement caused by escalating insecurity in the country. The UNHCR Representative to Nigeria, Ms Chansa Kapaya, said while the relentless violence in the North-East and North-West continues to cause mass suffering and displacement in the region, the agency is increasingly finding it difficult to cope as it is struggling to adequately respond to the growing humanitarian needs. According to the spokesman for the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Jens Laerke, agencies were forced to shut down because of targeted attacks against aid workers. “Humanitarian aid operations and facilities are the lifeline of people in northeast Nigeria who depend on our assistance to survive”, said Laerke, adding that the violent attacks on Damasak will affect the support of nearly 9,000 internally displaced people and 76,000 others in the host communities.

There is no doubt that the challenge of the internal displacement is growing across the country but more especially in the North. Last year the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) reckoned that 1.9 people were displaced in the North-east, with 60 per cent of them vulnerable children. Unfortunately, many more are fleeing relentless attacks in Katsina, Kaduna, Sokoto, Zamfara, Yobe, and Adamawa States. Maiduguri, capital of Borno State, has become one huge displacement centre. With thousands of people sleeping in the open and others in overcrowded places, the conditions of the IDPs are dire, harsh and increasingly becoming critical. Food is rationed and access to basic hygiene and health services is limited.

What seems to have worsened the situation is the Covid-19 pandemic which has affected sources of supply. Lack of safe water, poor sanitation and waste management, constitute a major problem as they promote communicable diseases and make life unbearable. The challenges are accentuated by the ineffectiveness of the several agencies of government saddled with the responsibility of soothing the pains of the IDPs, and massive corruption. There are also reports of the startling abuses to which women and girls are subjected in the camps. Some criminal security personnel whose primary task is to guard and provide support for the displaced persons demand sexual gratifications from women and girls in exchange for food and other favours. Besides, some of the people in the IDP camps suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders. Many children born in these camps do not have access to education, placing their future at risk.

The dire situation of the displaced persons is amply captured in a recent report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs: “The vulnerable host populations are in critical need of humanitarian interventions that include food, water, sanitation, protection, education, shelter and health services.” Unfortunately, many of the aid givers who largely sustain livelihoods in the camps are dangerously overstretched. A shortage of cash is the biggest problem. Last week, Ms Kapaya said funding had been grossly inadequate, adding that the UN agency had received only 10 per cent out of the $96.4 million it needs in 2021.

While government should do its bit, we also appeal to all critical stakeholders in the private sector, donor agencies, NGOs and others to help in tackling the diminishing quality of life in the IDP camps. We cannot abandon the most vulnerable of our citizens at their hour of need.

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With thousands of people sleeping in the open and others in overcrowded places, the conditions of the IDPs are dire, harsh and increasingly becoming critical. Food is rationed and access to basic hygiene and health services is limited

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