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North-east Nigeria: 2017 in review

While conflict continues to rage and despite numerous challenges, humanitarian aid reached more people in more places across the north-east.

Story by UNOCHA Nigeria January 5th, 2018


From increased international attention and donor support to improved local coordination, 2017 witnessed a lot of positive developments in the humanitarian response across north-east Nigeria. Amid major underlying challenges, humanitarian organisations worked around the clock to deliver life-saving aid to over 5 million of the most vulnerable conflict-affected women, children and men in the states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe.
The protection of civilians was a key priority in 2017, in addition to addressing the risk of famine, providing life-saving health and maternal services and mitigating the risk of disease through the provision of safe water and sanitation. The year was marked by the rapid scale-up of the humanitarian response by the United Nations and our partners, thanks to the overwhelming generosity of our donors. I am proud to say that by mid-2017 there were close to 3,000 aid workers operating in 26 locations in the north-east. Finally, by working closely with the Government of Nigeria we, the international community, have been able to increase and improve the delivery of humanitarian assistance to those in need in the north-east.

Edward Kallon, United Nations RESIDENT AND Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria


In the second half of 2016, the world awoke to the enormity of the north-east Nigeria humanitarian crisis, vastly neglected until then. This realisation translated into a massive scale-up of efforts and resources by international and local organisations during the first months of 2017. By mid-2017, there were close to 3,000 aid workers operating in 26 locations in the north-east, compared to only a few hundreds in 2016. In January 2017 alone, more than 1.2 million people received cash-based or in-kind food assistance, a major step toward tackling the looming risk of famine.

Tragically, the month was also marked by a bombing incident at the site for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Rann, Borno State, by a Nigerian Air Force jet. At least 54 persons were killed, including several aid workers, and hundreds were severely injured. Thanks to the UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) helicopters, managed by the World Food Programme (WFP), through 13 missions, emergency response teams were rapidly deployed, 967 kgs of medical cargo were delivered and 66 injured persons were evacuated to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, for treatment.

WFP food distribution in Banki, Borno State, Nigeria. © UNICEF / A. Esiebo.
In 2017, 3.1million people were reached with food security interventions to tackle the looming famine. © UNICEF / A. Esiebo.
Cash-based food assistance is instrumental in restarting local economies and allowing beneficiaries to make decisions. © WFP / S. P. Diouf.
Rann, Borno State, theater of the bombing incident by the Nigerian Air Force on 17 January which left 54 people dead. © OCHA / Y. Guerda.
UNHAS helicopters facilitated the medical evacuation of those wounded by the bombing in Rann. © UNHAS (WFP).
A total of 66 wounded women, children and men were evacuated thanks to UNHAS helicopters to Maiduguri for treatment. © UNHAS (WFP).


On 10 February, the OCHA-managed Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) allocated US$22 million to support the scale-up of the response in north-east Nigeria. On 24 February, the first ever international pledging Humanitarian Conference on Nigeria and the Lake Chad region took place in Oslo, Norway, re-positioning the crisis at the heart of international preoccupations. About 170 representatives, including members of the civil society, from 40 countries gathered and $672 million were pledged for 2017 and 2018. During the conference, the Nigeria Humanitarian Fund, one of 18 country-based pooled funds was launched to facilitate a prioritised, principled and timely funding of humanitarian projects.

The month also saw the official kick-off of the humanitarian hubs project with the opening of the very first one in Maiduguri on 22 February. The project is managed by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and as of December 2017, four hubs have been made operational in Dikwa, Bama, Gwoza and Ngala and another four are underway in Monguno, Banki, Damasak and Rann (all in Borno State). As these hubs offer safe and secure accommodation and Internet connectivity to aid workers in remote locations, they are critical in facilitating last-mile aid delivery.

Humanitarian Conference on Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, Oslo, Norway, 24 February 2017. Photo courtesy of the Government of Norway.
Visual courtesy of WFP and the Government of Norway.
Humanitarian Conference on Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, Oslo, Norway, 24 February 2017. Photo courtesy of the Government of Norway.
Humanitarian hub in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria, made operational on 22 Feburary 2017. © OCHA / J. Harneis.
Humanitarian hub in Ngala, Borno State, Nigeria. © OCHA / J. Harneis.
Humanitarian hub in Bama, Borno State, Nigeria. © OCHA.


On 31 March, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2349, condemning all terrorist attacks, violations of international humanitarian law and abuses of human rights by non-state armed groups in the Lake Chad basin. This helped refocus the world's attention on the harrowing atrocities of the region's conflict.

Since the start of hostilities in 2009, more than 20,000 people have been killed, thousands of women and girls abducted and children drafted as fighters and so-called "suicide" bombers. Up to 2.1 million people fled their homes at the height of the conflict, 1.7 million of whom are currently still internally displaced and close to 200,000 are still in Cameroon, Chad and Niger where they sought refuge. It is estimated that more than 900,000 people remain inaccessible to aid groups as of December 2017, in north-east Nigeria.

The UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2349, New York, USA, on 31 March 2017. © UN Photo / E. Schneider.


In just two months, April and May, close to 13,000 Nigerian refugees returned from Cameroon. This unexpected wave in returns created a massive surge in humanitarian needs in towns near the border like Banki and Pulka, particularly in terms of food, water, shelter and health services. Humanitarian organisations responded to the best of their capacities, all the while advocating to ensure that all returns were carried out in full respect of internationally recognised standards and principles of dignity, safety and voluntariness. According to a report from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), since 2015, more than 270,000 Nigerians driven by the conflict in the north-east have returned from Cameroon, Niger and Chad, 7 per cent of whom were reported to have returned against their will.

Over 20,000 Nigerian refugees returned from Cameroon since January 2017. © OCHA / J. Harneis.
More than 13,000 Nigerian refugees returned from Cameroon in April and May 2017 alone. Pulka, Borno State, 27 May 2017. © OCHA / J. Harneis.
27 May: 1,300 recently returned refugees were relocated from Banki to Pulka, requiring a major scale-up in the response. © OCHA / J. Harneis


Between 15 and 19 May, the Government of Nigeria, with the support of international organisations including UNICEF, WFP and the World Health Orgsanization (WHO), carried out the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Week (MNCHW) campaign, in 42 areas of Borno and Yobe states. A massive drive by all organisations working on improving the nutrition situation in north-east Nigeria, the campaign was meant to ensure that micro-nutrient deficiency control reached as many children and pregnant or lactating women as possible in the two states. In May, the campaign delivered vitamin A supplementation to more than 1.2 million children aged 6 to 59 months, deworming treatment to some 950,000 children, and iron supplementation for about 290,000 pregnant women. Another MNCHW campaign is planned for early 2018.

A nursing mother receives nutritious supplement for her severely acutely malnourished child, Farm Centre camp. © WFP / A. Baraze.
Malnutrition screening in Dikwa at a UNICEF-supported clinic, Borno State, June 2017. © OCHA / Y. Guerda.
A mother waits for a consultation for her child at the malnutrition clinic in Dikwa, Borno State. June 2017. © OCHA / Y. Guerda.
Boxes containing ready-to-use therapeutic food for malnourished children at the warehouse in Maiduguri, Borno State. © UNICEF / V. Sokhin.
Little Yusuf joined the UNICEF malnutrition programme at Muna Garage, near Maiduguri, June 2017. © OCHA / Y. Guerda.


The OCHA-managed Nigeria Humanitarian Fund (NHF), created during the February Oslo pledging conference, kicked off its first allocation on 16 June, with over $10.5 million for 13 selected projects. A second allocation followed in November with $13.4 million for 24 selected projects. The NHF, one of the world's 18 country-based pooled funds, plays a vital role in ensuring an effective, coordinated, prioritised and principled funding of the humanitarian response, with a strong focus on frontline responders. The fund is managed by and advisory board, chaired by the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria, Edward Kallon.

In June also, the federal Government of Nigeria launched its Special Relief Intervention for the North-East, which aimed to distribute 30,000 metric tons of food to 1.8 million IDPs, returnees and vulnerable people in host communities in the states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe.

Monitoring and evaluation mission by the NHF team for an ACTED project in Mafa, Borno State. 30 November. © OCHA.
The NHF team interviews communities on their satisfaction regarding an NHF-funded project in Mafa, Borno State. 30 November. © OCHA.
An NHF-funded borehole at the GSSSS camp for IDPs in Bama town, Borno State. 20 December 2017. © OCHA / Y. Guerda.
An NHF-funded latrine at the GSSSS camp for IDPs in Bama town, Borno State. 16 December 2017. © OCHA / V. Lahai.
Monitoring and evaluation mission in Adamawa for NHF-funded project by the NGO Action Health Incorporated. December 2017. © OCHA.
In Damaturu, in Yobe State, children grind the millet distributed by the Government of Nigeria. 24 July 2017. © OCHA / Y. Guerda.
The Government of Nigeria's plans include distributions of sorghum, maize, soya beans and rice for 1.8 million people. © OCHA / Y. Guerda.


From June through September, repeated heavy rains and wind storms damaged and destroyed hundreds of latrines, showers, shelters, and temporary learning spaces in IDP sites across the north-east. Many camps were flooded, increasing the risk of transmission of water-borne diseases, such as acute watery diarrhoea and cholera. Flooding also prevented road access to several areas, in particular Rann, near the border with Cameroon which remained hard to access as of December 2017.

Flooding in IDP sites can cause a surge in cases of water-borne diseases. Bakasi camp, Maiduguri, Borno, August 2017. © UNICEF / V. Sokhin.
In Adamawa State, a bridge linking major towns to the state capital, Yola, collapsed due to heavy rainfalls. June 2017. © FAO.
From June on, roads to Rann, where about 40,000 people are settled, were completely impassable due to flooding. © OCHA / Y. Guerda.
Just outside of Damasak, in Borno State, near the border with Niger, flooding forced hundreds to be displaced. © OCHA / Y. Guerda.
Destroyed latrine and shower blocks after a wind and rain storm in Customs House IDP camp near Maiduguri, Borno State. © OCHA / Y. Guerda.
Destroyed shelters in Muna Garage IDP site, near Maiduguri, Borno State, following a violent rain and wind storm. © OCHA / Y. Guerda.


With the rains, came also the hope for improved agricultural production for the year to come. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and WFP joined forces and, by the end of August, over 1.3 million farmers received inputs for agricultural production, such as fertilisers, improved seeds and tools. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) also carried out various agricultural input distributions. Throughout 2017, close to 200,000 farmers were trained on how to optimise their crops so they could sustain their food and nutrition needs in the long term. By October, which is the harvest season in north-east Nigeria, the metric ton production of maize, rice and millet had gone up compared to 2016 in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe and the overall proportion of food insecure households has decreased by 11 percentage points since March thanks to various factors (improved security, scale-up of food and livelihood assistance, favourable climatic conditions for agricultural production and slight market recovery). Nonetheless, conflict continues to limit the amount of land under cultivation and the food security situation remains of concern in 2018 and without continued assistance, the number of food insecure households could quickly increase.

To mark World Humanitarian Day, on 17 August, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Edward Kallon and Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator Peter Lundberg went to Bakasi camp, in Maiduguri, and met with internally displaced persons, adding their voices to the global #NotATarget call-for-action to protect civilians in conflict.

Maryam, 42, from Biu in Borno State, enjoys the cereal she received from UNDP and the Government of Japan. July 2017. © UNDP / E. Jonathan.
More than 50,000 households received seeds from WFP and FAO during the lean season. Kasaisa, Yobe State. © WFP / A. Ademigbuji.
Returnee farmers planting FAO-distributed seeds in their fields, Damungu village, in Fune, Yobe State. © FAO / S. Nguyen.
A returnee farmer in his field is ready to plant FAO-distributed sorghum seeds, Damungu village, in Fune, Yobe State. © FAO / S. Nguyen.
Farming input distribution to IDPs in Maiduguri, in July 2017. © UNDP / R. Tor-Bem.
Quality-certified maize seeds at a warehouse in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria. © FAO / S. Nguyen.
Cereal seeds and fertilisers for an FAO distribution in Damungu village in Fune, Yobe State, Nigeria. © FAO / S. Nguyen.
Humanitarian Coordinator Edward Kallon visited Bakasi camp in Maiduguri on 17 August 2017 to mark World Humanitarian Day. © OCHA.
Humanitarian Coordinator Edward Kallon and Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator Peter Lundberg in Bakasi for World Humanitarian Day. © OCHA.


On 16 August, a cholera outbreak was declared in Borno State. By September, it had affected five locations: Maiduguri and Jere, Dikwa, Mafa, Monguno, and Guzamala. Health and water/sanitation actors, including WHO, UNFPA and UNICEF, mobilised immediately to open cholera treatment centres and oral rehydration points in IDP sites, desludge latrines, and sensitise communities on the importance of hand washing and other hygiene best practices. The outbreak was officially declared over on 21 December, with a toll of more than 5,000 cases and 61 deaths. Two cholera vaccination campaigns were carried out, reaching close to 1 million people, with the capacity to protect from cholera for up to three years.

In September, an agreement and action plan was signed between Child Protection actors and the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) to stop the recruitment and use of children by the armed group. The CJTF, a local group formed in 2013 to support the Nigerian security forces in the fight against armed opposition groups in north-east Nigeria and to protect local communities from attacks, was listed in the Secretary-General’s Annual Report for Children and Armed Conflict for its recruitment and use of children. Through the Action Plan, the CJTF committed to put in place a number of measures to end this violation of international child rights.

The month was also marked by the visit in Nigeria of the newly-appointed Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock. After meeting the Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, in Abuja, he headed to Borno State with stops in Maiduguri, Pulka and Gwoza. There, he witnessed first-hand the impact of the conflict, listened to accounts of the suffering experienced by affected families, and contributed to raising the profile of the crisis internationally.

Muna Garage cholera treatment centre, Maiduguri, run by the State Ministry of Health with WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA support. © OCHA / Y. Guerda
Volunteer hands medication to a cholera patient in Muna Garage camp, near Maiduguri, Borno State. © OCHA / Y. Guerda.
Arrival of a girl suspected of having cholera at the Muna Garage cholera treatment centre, in Maiduguri. © OCHA / Y. Guerda.
An ambulance brings new patients to the cholera treatment centre in Muna Garage, near Maiduguri, Borno State. © OCHA / Y. Guerda.
Health volunteers inform communities on the importance of hand washing. © UNICEF.
In September, an action plan was signed between UNICEF and the CJTF to stop the recruitment and use of children. © OCHA / Y. Guerda.
USG Mark Lowcock, meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nigeria, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama. Abuja, 11 September. © OCHA / I. Brandau.
USG Mark Lowcock speaks to a displaced family in Wege IDP camp in Pulka, Borno State. 12 September 2017. © OCHA / I. Brandau.
USG Mark Lowcock visits the 20 Housing IDP site in Gwoza, Borno State. 12 September 2017. © OCHA / I. Brandau.


While formal education officially resumed in September, the enrolment drive to get children -- especially girls -- back in school kicked into full gear in October with over 150,000 children enrolled in Adamawa and Borno states alone as of the 31st. The figure rose to close to 240,000 by the end of November. This was achieved thanks to the efforts of various community-level committees and pro-active social mobilisation and advocacy activities.

In north-east Nigeria, the destruction of education is both a key objective and a tragic outcome of the crisis. As non-state armed groups have intentionally been targeting teachers and educational institutions, hundreds of classrooms have been destroyed and parents fear for their children's lives when sending them to school. As of December 2017, insecurity remains a major challenge in the full rehabilitation of the education system, which will be a major priority for the Governmental authorities and humanitarian partners in 2018.

UNICEF-supported school in Banki, Borno State. July 2017. © OCHA / Y. Guerda.
Children playing in a UNICEF-supported school in Damasak, Borno State. © OCHA / Y. Guerda.
A black board used for teaching math at the GSSSS camp for displaced persons in Bama, Borno State. © OCHA / Y. Guerda.
Girl standing in front of what is left of the Government Senior Science Secondary School in Bama, Borno State. © OCHA / Y. Guerda.


On 25 November, over 40 representatives of the humanitarian community, including Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator Peter Lundberg, and close to 130 traditional and religious leaders from all of Borno State gathered in the state capital, Maiduguri. During the dialogue, the various representatives exchanged on possible ways forward to work together to alleviate the suffering of the millions of women, children and men affected by the crisis in north-east Nigeria.

The same day, the "16 days of activism against gender-based violence (GBV)" started in Nigeria. A variety of activities, workshops, policy dialogues, youth debates, town hall meetings and radio talk shows were organised to speak up and find solutions for issues related to gender and sexual exploitation and abuse. In 2017, over 800,000 individuals received GBV Protection assistance through various interventions, including mental and psycho-social support and clinical management of rape. While the effort started in 2017, all sectors of the response are expected to enhance their gender focus across their operations in 2018 and ensure that protection against GBV is mainstreamed following international guidelines. The humanitarian agencies working in Nigeria are also developing a "Centrality of Protection" strategy to ensure that Protection is mainstreamed and remains at the forefront of all activities and sectors of the response.

Dialogue between the humanitarian community and traditional and religious leaders from Borno State. 25 November 2017. © OCHA.
Women and girls are particularly vulnerable to GBV in this crisis. Many are attacked when fetching firewood in the bush. © OCHA / Y. Guerda.
Psycho-social support session at an FHI-360 safe space for women in International School IDP camp in Ngala, Borno State. © OCHA / Y. Guerda.
Launch of the 16 Days campaign in Maiduguri, on 25 November, by the State Ministry of Women Affairs and UNFPA. © OCHA / Y. Guerda.


In Bama town, Borno State, after months of preparations, over 15,000 women, children and men were relocated from the General Hospital IDP site to a new site built at the former Government Senior Science Secondary School (GSSSS) campus. The site is managed by the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) with the support of IOM. Humanitarians worked around the clock to avail as many basic services as possible in the new camp by the time the relocation started on 17 December. This relocation was organised to solve a major congestion issue at the old site, and to allow for the reconstruction of the Bama General Hospital, as part of an overall rehabilitation plan for the area by Governmental authorities in 2018.

Needs assessments and plans for the 2018 humanitarian response were finalised by the various sectors, with a strong emphasis on durable solutions and linkages between humanitarian and development activities. This will facilitate the transition into longer-term recovery in some areas where the security situation is conducive.

Families load their belongings on a truck to relocate from the General Hospital to the GSSSS camp in Bama on 17 December. © OCHA / V. Lahai.
One of the 2,700 shelters built by UNHCR in the new GSSSS camp in Bama, Borno State. © OCHA / Y. Guerda.
An IOM-funded shelter under construction in the new GSSSS camp in Bama, Borno State, on 20 December. © OCHA / Y. Guerda.
View of some of the 2,250 shelters built by IOM in the new GSSSS IDP camp in Bama, Borno State. 20 December 2017. © OCHA / Y. Guerda.
A woman has moved in her new shelter at the new GSSSS IDP camp in Bama and is preparing a meal for her family. © OCHA / Y. Guerda.
Children collecting water at a water point in the new GSSSS IDP site in Bama town, Borno State. 20 December 2017. © OCHA / Y. Guerda.
Reconstruction of the Bama General Hospital started in December as part of a wider rehabilitation plan for the area. © OCHA / Y. Guerda.
300 houses, a clinic, a school and 228 market stalls built by UNDP for IDPs in Ngwom, Mafa, Borno. December 2017. © UNDP / E. Jonathan

DESPITE THE PROGRESS MADE IN 2017, THE SECURITY SITUATION REMAINS VOLATILE AND humanitarian needs remain critical in most locations in the north-east, INCLUDING IN TERMS OF PROTECTION, FOOD. WATER, SANITATION, SHELTER AND HEALTH. ADDITIONALLY, there are still many areas that aid workers cannot access due to insecurity, leaving several hundreds of thousands of people caught in the crisis without any life-saving support.

Footnote: Banner photo © OCHA / Yasmina Guerda.