By CHINEDU ASADU, Associated Press

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) — Iza Ali’s five children are still waiting to eat at 3 p.m. It is not the first day the family has been without food since fleeing extremist violence in northeast Nigeria six years ago.

She and her husband earn $3 a day, but that’s rarely enough to feed a family of seven. Often they scavenge for greenery outside the Jere IDP camp where they live on the outskirts of Maiduguri.

“If we don’t see food, we drink water,” the 25-year-old mum says, her 4-month-old baby tugging at her dress. “Only God can help us.”

Aid agencies are warning that families like hers are increasingly at risk from declining food production this year in Nigeria and the diversion of global humanitarian funds during the war in Ukraine.

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Acute malnutrition has soared from 1.4 million children in the northeast to 1.7 million last year, ARE THESE NATIONAL STATISTICS OR JUST BORNO STATE? according to Priscilla Bayo Nicholas, nutrition specialist with the UN children’s agency in Nigeria’s Borno State. In 2017, the number was only 400,000.

“If we don’t deal with them, we will lose these children,” she warned.

Like Ali, many people in northeast Nigeria have seen their livelihoods destroyed since 2009, when extremists began waging an insurgency in Africa’s most populous country. Attacks by Boko Haram and its offshoot – the Islamic State in West Africa Province – have killed more than 35,000 people in Nigeria and neighboring Chad, Niger and Cameroon, while in least 2.1 million people have been displaced, according to UN figures.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres met with displaced Nigerians last week while in Maiduguri, as he wrapped up his tour of three West African countries with a “visit to solidarity with the victims of terrorism”.

“I saw smiles. I saw enthusiasm. I saw hope,” said António Guterres. “And that’s where we need to invest,” he added, calling for an additional $351 million as part of the overall $1.1 billion plan for the United Nations Humanitarian Response Plan for the Nigeria.

Those who are displaced, however, say their hopes are fading every day.

At the Banki displacement camp, near the Cameroonian border, UN staff are caring for more than 50,000 people displaced by the violence. The camp is surrounded by heavily armed soldiers and filled with women and children whose future is uncertain.

Covered in bandages and visible wounds, acutely malnourished children lay on beds under the watchful eyes of their mothers and caregivers inside the camp’s nutrition centre.

Here, 20-month-old Mbolena rubs her swollen belly, which hangs over her small body and visible veins. His mother Isa Ali says she is grateful that at least “he feels better now”. Beside her bed, Maryam Hassan passionately cuddles her badly injured baby as he clings to life.

Many more children are trapped in places aid workers cannot access due to security risks, Nicholas told the AP.

Gomezgani Jenda, from Save the Children International’s Nigeria office, said the conflict is exacerbating problems already faced by children in the region.

“The humanitarian situation affecting children in these areas continues to be a challenge with an urgent need that is even greater than before,” Jenda said.

In many IDP camps in Nigeria, government agencies provide food while aid agencies mainly focus on education and health needs. But the amount that comes in from the Nigerian government’s relief agency every two months rarely lasts more than a few days, said Jere camp chairman Mala Bukar.

The country’s humanitarian affairs ministry did not respond to a request from the AP.

Nigerian authorities have begun closing some of the camps for the displaced as part of efforts to send people back to their hometowns abandoned during a war that the country’s leader, President Muhammadu Buhari, said was “nearing its end. “.

More than 50,000 Islamic militants have surrendered, according to the Nigerian army. However, International Crisis Group said the most dominant faction, ISWAP, is “consolidating its grip on new rural areas”, in parts of Borno state.

Ali wants the violence to end there so that she, her husband and their five children can return home and farm again. However, impending attacks haunt her, so she remains out of place.

“We want to go back,” she said. But only “if the bush is cleared and there are no members of Boko Haram who will kill us”.

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