The Future is Equal

Winnie Byanyima: this starvation in Africa is an affront to humanity

Oxfam International’s Executive Director Winnie Byanyima is visiting Nigeria, where millions have been displaced by conflict and are desperately hungry. She writes of what she has seen so far.

We’re all shaken by the fact that our world stands on the brink of 4 famines. It is unprecedented in modern times. It should never have been allowed to happen. The UN says nearly 20 million people are at risk of starvation.
This week, Nigel Timmins and I have joined Oxfam staff and partners in northeast Nigeria. We are visiting people and the work we do in and around Maiduguri, and travelling to Gwoza and Pulka (towns that have been badly affected by the conflict, with much of Gwoza totally destroyed by Boko Haram; Pulka is still receiving people being displaced by the conflict for the first time).
Communities here have been forced to flee their homes, leaving everything behind as they seek safety, food, clean water and more amid the ongoing conflict between Boko Haram and the government.
Thousands of people are thought to have died already. Many of them are young children.
As an African: it pains me to see this happening on our continent. I feel great sadness, but also anger and humiliation.
As Nigel said: “These are human-made crises. They’re not inevitable. There is no reason, and no excuse in today’s world, for a mother to sleep outdoors on the ground with her children, with little food or water and fearing for their lives. This should not happen”.
Governments must act. We need an injection of aid, backed by diplomatic courage to tackle the causes of these crises. State, national and international political leadership is needed now to address the immediate crisis and bring an end to the conflict.
Oxfam is doing what we can – delivering on the front-lines to those in need and pushing decision makers to act. This is a journey Nigel and I wish we had never had to make – but we are so glad we have come here to see this crisis first-hand and meet these brave people. We will do our utmost to share what we have seen, and push decision-makers to avert catastrophic loss of life.
And we must tell you: in these past few days, in the midst of such suffering, we’ve had cause for hope.
We’ve seen communities sharing what little they have with others in greater need. We’ve spoken with strong women who are stepping up as leaders in their communities. We’ve been greeted with warmth and gratitude by people who have been through so much, and have so little.
Political leaders can still – and must – avert catastrophic loss of life. We need an immediate and sweeping response. Governments must end this betrayal of some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

Day 1

Winnie, Nigel and the team visited Oxfam’s programs in and around Maidaguri, in northeast Nigeria. Oxfam is responding to the crisis there by providing access to food through distributions and cash for people to use in local markets, clean water and sanitation and helping people to keep themselves safe. During the visit, they met with senior State Government leadership, including the Deputy Governor, the Secretary to the State Government and the State Attorney General. They discussed key issues including the stark number of people at risk of starvation in the state, improving coordination between the humanitarian community and the state government, government funding and leadership in the response and secondary displacement.

They also visited Kushari, an area of Maiduguri, which is in Northeast Nigeria, where local families and those who have arrived in town fleeing violence live together and share what little they have. They heard examples of host families giving those in greater need their clothes, food and more to help support them. This generosity in the face of one’s own dire need is an inspiring common theme across this hunger crisis, which comes from the tradition and culture of community that has always been so strong in this region and the rest of Africa. Oxfam rehabilitated two boreholes in Kushari, giving both local and displaced families access to safe and clean water.

Photos: Tom Saater/Oxfam.