THE reported loss of 450 children to malnutrition in 28 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps in Borno State in 2015 is depressing. The Executive Director of the Borno Emergency Management Agency, Dr. Sule Mele, who disclosed the deaths in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Maiduguri, pointed out that the victims were aged between one and five years old.
According to Mele, more than 209,577 children were also screened for various illnesses, including malaria, diarrhea and vomiting. About 6,444 severe cases of malnutrition were recorded in the camps, 25,511 had mild to moderate symptoms, while 177,622 children were not malnourished.
Mele attributed the high incidence of malnutrition to lack of access to nutritious foods at the camps as well as poor feeding practices such as inadequate breastfeeding and offering of wrong foods.
He also explained that the food that is mostly served in the camps is for adults, which affects the health, growth and physical development of children. He further argued that even if the children get enough to eat, they will become malnourished if the food does not provide the proper amounts of micro-nutrients, vitamins and minerals to meet their daily nutritional requirements.
We decry this high child mortality rate at the Borno IDPs camps. The loss of these children to malnutrition was avoidable and we urge the relevant government authorities to step up relief operations in these camps to address all nutritional lapses among the children.
The death of 450 children in these camps last year is disgusting and unacceptable in 21st century Nigeria. It is a demonstration of utter neglect and dereliction of duty by those in charge of the camps.
The high number of child deaths in the camps shows that adequate attention is not being paid to their welfare. This is scandalous and heartrending, to say the least. The Federal Government should show more than a passing interest in the care of the people in the IDPs, especially the children.
In view of the magnitude of this problem, we call on the governments of states in the North-East, especially Borno State, to pay more attention to the feeding of children in IDPs. We also implore relevant non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to wade into this crisis and stem further deaths of the children. Public-spirited individuals should also assist in caring for these unfortunate children by donating needed foods and drugs.
Let government supply the IDPs with drugs and nutritious foods, to ensure that all the children are adequately fed on a daily basis. Those who fall sick should be promptly treated before their cases deteriorate.
It is sad that the millions of naira committed by government to catering for the IDPs have not reflected in their welfare. Last year, the Borno State government said that it spent N600 million per month on IDPs.
We also recall the N60 billion Boko Haram Victims Fund earmarked for the welfare of IDPs. There is urgent need for a paradigm shift in the way inmates of these IDPs camps are looked after. Let all the monies and supplies meant for the IDPs be judiciously utilised for their welfare.
The government should wake up and address all the shortcomings in these camps. The Federal Government should also consider adopting the United States Special Supplemental Nutrition Programme for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) for nutrition of these children. If adopted, the nutritional programme will go a long way in checking malnutrition amongst internally displaced children.