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COVID-19 Has Increased Malnourished Children In Nigeria , Says ICRC

By Bukar Bolori 

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said COVID-19 has increased the number of malnourished children in the country. 

It also complained that the pandemic has reduced food production and led to reduction of importation of food into the country.

The ICRC, in its operational update released on Friday, lamented that the pandemic shut the door on food importation as well as prevented farmers assess to seeds at the peak of planting season.

The release said ICRC has seen an increase in malnutrition rates among children in nutrition centers it supports. 

It said the number of children treated by the outpatient nutrition program grew by 20%, while the number of severe malnutrition cases rose by 10%, compared to the same period last year. 

It decried that the rise in the number of patients was registered despite the ICRC putting on hold its community outreach programme due to the pandemic. 

It said: “The outreach program, implemented in collaboration with the Nigerian Red Cross Society (NRCS), is its most efficient tool to identify malnourished children.“

“What we are seeing now is just the tip of an iceberg, and we are very concerned by the trend, especially in Maiduguri,” a ICRC nutritionist, Thomas Ndambu, was quoted to have said, stressing that: “I am certain that when Nigerian Red Cross volunteers resume their community outreach, the numbers will surge.” 

The released claimed that the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic put additional strain on the vulnerable communities in the North-East of Nigeria, where the decade-long armed conflict is severely hampering agricultural production and self-sufficiency of local farmers.

An Economic Security Programs Coordinator for the ICRC, Ruth Mwakiuna Muriungi, was quoted as saying: “Everywhere we work the food prices have gone up, in some places they doubled. It means that millions of people in the North-East of Nigeria do not have enough to eat.”

ICRC regretted that almost two million people in the North-East are currently displaced and do not have access to their agricultural land and production tools, noting that in many areas of the Lake Chad region insecurity and movement restrictions have limited farmers ability to plant crops. 

It lamented that Kano, Nigeria’s major seeds producer, was among the areas hit the hardest by the pandemic during the planting season, which affected seed processing and transportation, which made many farmers not to obtain seeds or received them too late. 

It said the ICRC, one of the major contributors to the agricultural sector in the North-East, managed to obtain less than 60% of the seeds it was originally planning to distribute to vulnerable communities.   

It noted that with Nigeria depending on food import for a tenth of its food needs, border closures and restrictions on movement during spring and summer months also affected the availability of food in the markets. 

It said extreme weather is another factor influencing food production in Nigeria, and that Adamawa state experienced dry spells at the beginning of the agricultural season, which is expected to have a negative impact on the production of maize in the area.   

It was revealed that between January and September 2020, one million-people received food and livelihood assistance from the ICRC, and that the ICRC under the activities carried out in close collaboration with the NRCS assisted 49,625 households, giving out food rations to 36,872 households, cash relief to 7,252 households and nutritious soya-corn blend to 5,501 households

Also 30,769 households received seeds and tools, 11,501 households received cash to protect the seeds during the planting season, 36 herders benefited from the vet vaccination and 11,068 vet items were donated to the veterinary hospital in Maiduguri. 

It said 1,883 households participated in cash for livelihood activities and income generation programs, with 120 people with disabilities benefitting from the micro-economic initiative program in Kano and 30,111 households receiving essential household items to improve their living conditions.

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