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Brutalized, exiled, unbroken

Reaching those driven out by Boko Haram violence

Story by World Food Programme February 3rd, 2017

In Boko Haram-affected areas of Nigeria, 4.4 million people are facing hunger, of whom nearly 2 million people are in need of emergency food assistance. Here, Andre Vornic of the World Food Programme visits northeastern Nigeria, and describes how the agency's work has assisted over million people to date.

In northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram insurgency is believed to have killed some 20,000 people. A counter-offensive by the Nigerian army, whose checkpoints dot the roads here, has weakened the group. But Boko Haram has a way of melting back, regrouping or splitting off into sleeper cells. Years after it first arose, it still casts a shadow over the region.

Benisheikh community, Borno state. In 2013, Boko Haram killed some 160 people here. Such massacres seemingly no longer occur – though in truth we cannot know for sure, as parts of the region remain impenetrable.

Members of the Benisheikh community in Borno state. Photo: WFP/Andre Vornic

Yet even in the absence of mass slaughter, suicide bombings pose a constant risk. In late January, in the Borno capital, Maiduguri, a teenage girl blew herself up. She had a baby strapped to her back – a way to evade checks and body searches.

Mass murder is one half of Boko Haram’s legacy. The other is mass displacement. Within Nigeria alone, nearly 2 million people have been uprooted. More have fled across the borders with Cameroon and Chad. The displaced have found refuge in formal camps or host communities. Hunger stalks these lands. Some 4.5 million are not getting enough to eat. Many are on the edge of starvation.

Nearly two million people have been displaced in Nigeria. Photo: WFP/Andre Vornic

WFP and its partners feed a growing proportion of the displaced – over a million at the last count, with hopes of reaching double that number in the next few months. The Baga Road warehouse in Maiduguri is the nexus of this relief effort. Trucks leased from local contractors stream in and out of this vast site, loading, unloading and reloading sacks of food and pallets of nutritious supplements.

The Baga Road warehouse in Maiduguri. Photo: WFP/Andre Vornic

The dusty expanse of Bakasi camp in Maiduguri serves as a home to 30,000 people. The flow of arrivals has slowed as the army has advanced against Boko Haram. But if fewer people are coming in, none are going out. The newly liberated areas, as they are known in Nigeria, are still too volatile to return to.

A child at Bakasi camp in Maiduguri. Photo: WFP/Andre Vornic

WFP’s local partner, the International Medical Corps, is distributing Plumpy’Sup, a peanut-based paste specially designed to combat malnutrition in children under five. There are many of them here. Life in the camp would be their only conscious memory. Their mothers – women largely seem to outnumber men, more likely to have been killed outright – have been displaced for two years or longer.

Plumpy’Sup is a peanut-based paste specially designed to combat malnutrition in children under five. Photo: WFP/Andre Vornic

Ajazara and her son have been at Bakasi for six months. But this is not their first stop. Altogether they have clocked up two years and seven months of displacement. When Boko Haram overran their community, it began by confining women to their homes – they could not go out to fetch either food or water. Eventually Boko Haram killed almost everyone – including 15 members of Ajazara’s family. She and her son – seen here with a supply of Plumpy’Sup – managed to flee.

Ajazara and her son have been at Bakasi Camp for six months. Photo: WFP/Andre Vornic

Stripped of livelihoods and dignity, the displaced crave more than survival – a degree of autonomy, perhaps. Alongside in-kind food and nutritious supplements, WFP increasingly distributes cash. Money allows people a measure of choice in what they buy – and encourages local producers. The sum received below is a little under US$ 50. It will not help the receiver to restart his life. But it will ensure he has one to live.

Mobile phone-based cash assistance forms part of WFP and its partners' efforts. Photo: WFP/Andre Vornic

See also: WFP Scales Up And Humanitarian Community Reduces Hunger In Northeast Nigeria