NEDC: Tackle IDPs Basic Needs

A camp official coordinating some children during the flag-off of the distribution of food and non-food items, empowerment and Educational Materials to Internally Displaced Persons Camp, Wasa, Abuja...over the weekend Photo by Abayomi Adeshida

By Akanimo Sampson

THE North East Development Commission (NEDC) is an interventionist agency a mandate to receive and manage funds allocated by the Federal Government and international donor agencies for the resettlement, rehabilitation, integration and reconstruction of roads, houses and business premises of victims of insurgency.

Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Sen Ita Enang, says the commission will also help in tackling the menace of poverty and environmental challenges in the North –East.

According to him, ‘’it provides for  offices of  Chairman, Managing Director, Executive Director (Administration and Finance), Executive Director (Humanitarian Affairs), Executive Director (Operations) and members representing the North East Zone to be rotated amongst member states of the commission. The commission will among other things coordinate projects and programmes within the Master Plan for the rehabilitation, resettlement, reconciliation, reconstruction and sustainable development of the North-East zone.

‘’This will be done in the field of infrastructure, human and social services, including health and nutrition, education and water supply, agriculture, wealth creation and employment opportunities, urban and rural development and poverty alleviation. The commission will also liaise with federal ministries, departments, agencies, states and development partners on  implementation of all measures approved in the Master Plan for stabilization and development of the North-East by the Federal Government.

‘’It will equally assess and report on any project being funded or carried out in the North-East by any federal ministry, department and agency or company that has an agreement with the Federal Government, and ensure that funds released for such projects are properly utilised. The commission will equally liaise with other stakeholders on  tackling of humanitarian, ecological and environmental problems and degradation that arise from natural causes, insurgency and industrial activities in the North-East’’.

Enang said the commission will seek humanitarian, human, material, technical and financial support from development partners, local or international, and non-governmental organisations, with a view to developing the affected region, pointing  out that the commission was saddled with the responsibility of co-coordinating civil-military confidence building, stabilization measures and  activities that lie within the civil-military interface especially before, during and after military and security operations.

Without doubt, one of key roles of the commission is to act as the focal point to coordinate and harmonise all other interventions programmes and initiatives that the government was involved with in the North-East. This is coming at a time Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Nigeria are still unable to exercise their basic rights to food and essential household items such as sleeping mats, mosquito nets, jerry cans, soap and cooking utensils.

Usually, citizens lose access to their sources of revenue when they flee from conflicts. And usually too, assistance for those living in camps, when provided, is inadequate. The destruction of property, crops and stores of food at the time of displacement is a major driver of food insecurity among IDPs.

Humanitarian agencies say during the early phases of displacement, state governments and aid agencies provide basic food items through the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA). But supplies are often quickly exhausted and IDPs are forced to turn to their hosts for help in meeting their basic needs.

In the North-East axis of Nigeria, Boko Haram, a terrorist network, has disrupted livelihood activities and markets and reduced trade flows. Staples and other basic commodities have become scarcer and prices have been soaring, preventing the displaced persons from buying basic foodstuffs.

Most of them, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), an agency of the United Nations, are food insecure and host families are overstretched. For instance, an inter-agency humanitarian needs assessment carried out in the volatile region in the mid-2014 found that it was common practice for households to ration food portions as a means of survival.

Measures by the armed security forces have also disrupted rural markets and transport, contributing further to the food shortages of both the IDPs and their hosts. Trade at major urban markets in Maiduguri, Potiskum, Damaturu, Mubi and Yola has been halved and many peri-urban markets have virtually closed. Vulnerable households including IDPs in the worst affected areas of Southern Borno and Yobe states, and Northern Adamawa state face crisis level food insecurity.

In Nigeria, the majority of IDPs take refuge in host communities. This involves staying in the homes of family or friends, paying for temporary accommodation or seeking refuge in makeshift camp-like settings such as schools, sports centres, churches, mosques and university campuses. When none of these options are available, IDPs are forced to shelter in abandoned buildings, on the streets of urban centres or on the outskirts of villages. Makeshift camps are often grossly inadequate, becoming quickly overcrowded and unsustainable. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), some IDPs have no access to safe shelter and take refuge in the bush.

Homes of many vulnerable communities are damaged or destroyed by floods on an almost annual basis. In the absence of other options, many simply await their inevitable displacement when the rainy season arrives. Some, however, have taken preventive measures. Inhabitants of Gurmana, a village in Niger State, asked the authorities to provide them with tents so they could pre-emptively relocate their families and belongings. This would have helped them avoid disrupting their children’s education by occupying the primary school, as they had previously been forced to do. Months after making the request, they allegedly received scant attention. Despite the authorities having previously agreed to permanently relocate the village to higher ground, they have received no support to do so, says IDMC.

People forcibly evicted who are unable to find shelter with family and friends are left homeless unless they receive compensation or financial assistance from the authorities. Representatives from the Badia East slum held lengthy negotiations with the Lagos State Government between February 2013 and January 2014, but no relief was forthcoming for those evicted. The resulting lack of shelter, according to a report by the Amnesty International, ‘’led to a severe deterioration in their living conditions and health, including deaths’’.

Poor Health

IDPs often have only minimal access to health services, and their lack of access is of particular concern given the fact that the overwhelming majority are women and children. Most health facilities in areas of the North-East affected by conflict were closed as a result of insecurity and the displacement of staff. Some facilities have been damaged. Few facilities in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states are functional.

Health facilities in the North-East were already poorly resourced before the Boko Haram crisis, and additional resources have not been provided to meet the needs of populations swollen by displacement. In some communities there are not enough facilities or staff to meet even the basic health needs of IDPs and their hosts. Primary health care services in particular have been overwhelmed by the recent influxes of IDPs.

The primary obstacle in accessing health care for many IDPs is their lack of resources, including to pay for transport to the nearest facilities, which can be some distance away. Outbreaks of disease and malnutrition rates have increased in areas affected by displacement. The number of cholera cases among IDPs and host communities often rise exponentially. The lack of water and sanitation facilities raises serious concerns. Global acute malnutrition rates in Yobe and Borno states were 15.5 per cent and 13.6 per cent respectively, according to accounts by some humanitarian workers.

IDPs and host communities in the North have only limited access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation, leading to a decline in health and hygiene among both IDPs and their host communities. Public latrines in informal camp-like settings such as schools are often non-existent. Defecation and the disposal of children’s waste in the open is common, particularly in urban or densely populated peri-urban host communities.

Open defecation raises health, security and dignity issues, particularly for women and girls, and creates tension with host communities. The contamination of water sources has contributed to cholera outbreaks in a number of displacement sites in Biu, Borno state. Boreholes, hand pumps and unprotected wells dug by hand are the main source of drinking water for communities displaced by Boko Haram.

When IDPs flee away from populated areas or trapped in the bush, they resort to drinking from ponds, rivers and streams which are often also used by animals, polluted and conducive to the spread of human and livestock diseases. Many displaced women and children have to walk long distances to fetch water, and they have had to travel further as pressure on local sources has increased as a result of influxes of people fleeing terrorist attacks.

Aid agencies say water shortages are a cause of tension between IDPs and their host communities. Boko Haram militants, according to them, deliberately destroyed water points and damaged pipes and equipment in their attacks on the towns of Benesheik and Minok towns in Borno to prevent IDPs from returning to the area.

Environmental hygiene among displaced households is also poor as a result of overcrowded conditions and shortages of water and other materials. This is of particular concern to women and teenage girls who face the challenge of maintaining menstrual hygiene in very constrained circumstances.

Access To Education

Amnesty International argues that with many IDPs sheltering in schools and humanitarian assistance often limited to life-saving interventions, displaced children are generally unable to pursue their education.

They may be right. Boko Haram attacks against schools since 2012 and state governments’ closure of facilities in the worst affected areas, such as Borno, have drastically decreased access. All schools in the towns of Baga, Bama, Jajeri, Umarari Garnam, Mai Malari, Mungono and Gamboru were forced to close between February 2012 and June 2013. Unidentified gunmen destroyed 14 schools in Maiduguri, the state capital between January and April 2013, and at least 256 were destroyed across the state

IDPs and members of the security forces occupying schools have damaged and in some cases destroyed infrastructure. A surge in displacement in northern Adamawa during the July to September 2014 holidays led to a large number of IDPs sheltering in schools, which prevented classes from resuming at the start of the academic year.

Attendance rates have declined dramatically in the vulnerable region. Even in areas where schools have remained open, many children, including IDPs, do not attend for fear of attack and abduction. The abduction of students in IDPs’ home areas has made parents wary of sending their children to school, even in the comparative safety of the areas of refuge in neighbouring states. Parents also tend to prioritise basic needs such as shelter and food over education.

However, displaced children’s access to education varies from state to state. They are often refused attendance at host community schools that do not have the facilities or staff to take on more students. During the first half of 2014, admission was denied to many IDP children because the school year had already started. In Gombe, where schools are largely unaffected by the influxes of IDPs, some displaced children were still refused admission.

In Taraba, schools have been attacked and more than 100 forced to close. Others were open to IDPs, but were suffering severe shortages of materials. Displaced children in Bauchi have been able to enrol in host community schools, but overstretched resources have lowered the quality of education for all. Classrooms are overcrowded, under-resourced and under-staffed. IDPs’ lack of financial resources and the distance their children need to travel to get to school are further obstacles to their education.

There is some good news. IDPs living in camps or in host communities near camps and large distribution centres have attended Education in Emergencies (EiE) programmes provided by local agencies supported by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). EiE programmes are an emergency response to deliver life-saving health and hygiene messages, psychosocial support and supervision for vulnerable children. Certainly not a substitute for formal education or a means of displaced children catching up on lost schooling.