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Nigerias food crisis

Hunger games

Famine looms in areas devastated by Boko Haram

AT a tiny air force clinic in Bama, a wretched town in north-eastern Nigeria, a


military doctor is trying to insert a drip into a starving child. He gives up on the
two-year-olds arms and labours with a needle just above his brow. But that vein
has collapsed too, and blood seeps through the pinprick. Half-dressed and dirty,
the baby is bundled off to a quieter room. Hes going to die if I cant get it in
today, the medic says, following him out.

Scenes like this are common in Borno, the state worst-affected by Nigerias
insurgency, Boko Haram, which is affiliated to Islamic State. In Maiduguri, its
capital, camps for the internally displaced are teeming with bloated-bellied
babies. Their shoulder-blades stick out like wings. When a bereaved mother
collapses at a clinic run by Mdecins Sans Frontires, a non-governmental
organisation,staff barely blink: they see hundreds of underfed children every day.

All told, the UN estimates that 240,000 children in Borno are suffering from
severe acute malnutritionthe deadliest category of it. More than 130 will die
each day without assistance. Across the wider north-east of Nigeria, a population
equivalent to New Zealands is in need of food aid. In Abuja, the countrys sleepy
capital, humanitarian co-ordinators compare the crisis to those of South Sudan
and the Central African Republic. Unlike them, Nigeria cannot excuse itself as a
failed state. It is Africas second-biggest economy. Things should never have got
this bad.

That they did is largely because of Boko Haram. The jihadists want to establish a
caliphate in Nigeria: until early last year they occupied a territory the size of
Belgium. But they are hopeless administrators, skilled only in violence. Rather
than wooing neglected villagers, they pillaged food, stole cattle and poisoned
water. Instead of using farmers to feed their fighters, they held them under lock
and key. They wouldnt allow us to come and go, says one woman, who fled to
Bamas 10,000-person camp. Only if your husband was with Boko Haram did
they give you food.

Mercifully, the insurgents have been pushed out of most big towns in the north-
east over the past 18 months, though they still strike smaller villages, and camp
out in the bush. Soldiers say that landmines litter farmers fields, making it
dangerous to grow food. Borno is now entering its third season without a harvest.
Where food is available, prices have soared. Vendors in Maiduguris Monday
market, a favourite of the suicide-squads, say that the prices of some staple
grains have trebled. Those who can find supplies at all are the lucky ones.

Nigerias government mutters about sending displaced people home, but many
reclaimed towns are still in lockdown. There is hardly a building standing or a
soul on the street in Bama, once a city of 250,000 people: only roofless walls
covered in Arabic scrawl, and fallen power lines. Its closed-off camp depends
entirely on food aid, like many others in the state. But Bornos roads are often
raided, so aid is in short supply. Soldiers in Bama were sharing out their rations
before international help arrived in May.

The start tells us about a doctor in a derelict town that has to insert adrip into a
starving child but has difficulty finding a vein that isnt collapsed.

Their shoulder-blades stick out like wings. I think this shows how starved and
thin these children are.