There are almost two million people who are currently displaced from their homes in North-East Nigeria, the United Nations has said in a report released in Abuja this week by Geoffrey Njoku, the Communications Specialist, UNICEF Nigeria.

“In North-East, Nigeria, there are currently 1.9 million people displaced from their homes. Sixty percent of them are children, with one in four under the age of five,” the report said. It can be deduced that an estimated 19 million children globally, more than ever before, are living in displacement within their own countries, due to conflict and violence in 2019.

Following the report on the challenges and the risks facing the internally displaced persons, and the urgent actions needed to protect them, the UN warned that the displaced children in Nigeria were among the world’s most vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Millions of displaced children around the world are already going without proper care and protection,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “When new crises emerge, like the COVID-19 pandemic, these children are especially vulnerable. It is essential that governments and humanitarian partners work together to keep them safe, healthy, learning, and protected.”

Looking at the risks and challenges the internally displaced face, most of the children living in the north-east are living in the shadow of conflict, which is now increasingly challenging during the pandemic. “When a new crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic emerges, displaced children are especially vulnerable and the gaps in our ability to keep them safe are even starker,” the report said.

Internally displaced children lack access to basic services and are at risk of exposure to violence, exploitation, abuse, and trafficking. Some of the risks the children are exposed to include child labor, child marriage, and family separation which all pose direct threats to their health and safety.

Compounding the situation is the emergence of the novel coronavirus, which is making life difficult for displaced children and families. They often live in overcrowded camps or informal settlements, where there is limited access to basic hygiene and health services, and where social distancing is not possible. These conditions are highly conducive to the spread of diseases like COVID-19.

This is not far fetched in Nigeria’s North East where conditions pose a challenge to curbing the spread of diseases. Some of these children find it difficult to live by rules and regulations to fight against any diseases. 

According to the UN report, there were 12 million new displacements of children in 2019, 3.8 million of them were caused by conflict and violence, and 8.2 million by disasters linked mostly to weather-related events like flooding and storms.

There is a need for urgent actions and unified efforts by the Nigerian government, private sector, humanitarian actors and other related agencies to find solutions to the effects of displacement, amid the ongoing pandemic.

By Ahmed Iyanda

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