Boko Haram blamed in looming humanitarian crisis in Nigeria's northeast

Doctors Without Borders medics examine a child at a center in the Maiduguri area.

Story highlights

  • Aid groups alarmed by the scope of rampant malnutrition across Borno state
  • Boko Haram militants have fought the government, terrorized villages for years

(CNN)A frail woman hesitates for a moment before handing over her sick child to a nurse.

"This child cannot stand," says another medic as the severely malnourished boy is carried to the intensive care unit at the Gwange therapeutic feeding center on the outskirts of Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria's Borno state.
    That scene, captured on video by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), plays out countless times in the northeastern state, where hunger is rampant, according to new numbers. The group says 500,000 people are in urgent need of food, shelter and medical care.
      Nearly 244,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition in Borno state and an estimated 49,000 of them, about 1 in 5, will die if they don't receive urgent treatment, UNICEF said in a new report.
      "Some 134 children on average will die every day from causes linked to acute malnutrition if the response is not scaled up quickly," said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF regional director for Western and Central Africa, who recently returned from a visit to Borno.
        A young girl suffering from severe acute malnutrition is weighed at a medical center outside Borno state's capital.
        "A lot of these children are arriving in a very advanced stage of malnutrition, they are extremely weak," Claire Magone, MSF emergency coordinator in Maiduguri, told CNN on Sunday. Many more in other parts of the state are still out of reach for the humanitarian teams because of the volatile security situation, she said.
        It's difficult to know how many people have died in recent months. Doctors Without Borders said a late June visit to the Bama area showed more than 1,200 graves had been dug since internally displaced citizens had gathered in a hospital compound. Five children died while an assessment was being undertaken.
        A July return visit provided this grim scene of what the group called a ghost town, hundreds having been evacuated: "There are hardly any men or boys older than 12. We don't know what has happened to them."

        'True scope of this crisis yet to be revealed'

        Since taking office last year, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has pledged to defeat the terror group Boko Haram, which operates mainly in the northeast of the country but also conducts attacks across the borders.
        Despite some setbacks, the Nigerian military, working with neighboring countries that include Chad and Cameroon, which also have been affected, has been able to regain significant territory.
        As Boko Haram is pushed out of more areas, the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis aggravated by the extremist group's deadly insurgency is becoming more palpable.
        Hundreds of thousands have been cut off from the outside world, in some cases for as long as two years, Doctors Without Borders said in a statement. People in those areas are relying entirely on outside help, the group said.
        Reaching some of those towns and villages is still very dangerous, Doune Porter, UNICEF Nigeria communications officer, told CNN. "There are attacks on the roads, there are land mines," she said.