Child malnutrition crisis in Northern Nigeria

Katsina, July 10: In northern Nigeria, an unprecedented humanitarian crisis is unfolding as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and other aid organizations struggle to cope with soaring rates of child malnutrition. With 31.8 million people facing food insecurity, Nigeria ranks as the country with the largest number of food-insecure individuals globally, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
MSF reports that their facilities, spread across seven states, are overwhelmed beyond capacity. In April alone, they admitted 1,250 children to an inpatient therapeutic feeding centre in Maiduguri—double the number from the same period last year. Dr Simba Tirima, MSF’s Nigeria representative, underscored the severity of the situation, stating, “We have an emergency at hand. Those kids that are severely malnourished definitely need treatment.”
Severe acute malnutrition has led to alarming secondary health issues such as tuberculosis and acute diarrhea, severely stunting children’s growth. Shockingly, in 2023 alone, over 52,000 cases of severe acute malnutrition were diagnosed across the seven states, resulting in 2,693 deaths, as reported by MSF.
The root causes of this crisis are multifaceted. Nigeria’s economy is grappling with food inflation nearing 30%, exacerbating existing food insecurity. Widespread violence in rural areas, where gangs extort, kidnap, and sometimes kill farmers, has forced many to abandon their lands. Reports indicate that 165 farmers were killed in the first quarter of this year alone, exacerbating food production challenges.
The security situation has led to massive internal displacement. By the end of 2022, approximately 1.2 million people were displaced in central and north-west Nigeria due to violence, with an additional 2.3 million displaced in the north-eastern region, where jihadist groups like Boko Haram operate unchecked.
Government efforts to mitigate the crisis include releasing 2,000 metric tonnes of grains from federal reserves earlier this year. However, aid organizations warn that millions remain at risk of famine, especially as Nigeria enters its lean season from June to September. The World Food Programme has projected that 26.5 million people could face acute hunger by the end of this period.
Dr. Tirima emphasized the urgency for immediate international intervention, stating, “MSF is just one organization. We need other actors to come in. What we do is a drop in the bucket—we are nowhere near addressing the immediate crisis that we face.”