In northeast Nigeria, a conflict between the military and armed opposition groups is now in its ninth year.
Millions of people have been displaced from their homes, while infrastructure and basic services have collapsed. Over 7 million people are in need of urgent life-saving assistance, according to Mercy Corps, while the food and nutrition crisis is massive.
Now, as the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic spreads around the world, healthcare and development workers in the region are struggling against a threat that could undermine the relief efforts already underway.
We spoke to Clara Orji, program manager for Mercy Corps in Nigeria, to understand how COVID-19 is impacting the organization’s programs underway in Nigeria, and what they need from the international community to support their efforts.
What work do you do within the humanitarian aid sector?
I am a program manager at Mercy Corps for a program that’s focused on improving food security and economic empowerment in a “garrison town” in Borno state, northeast Nigeria.
In the northeast of Nigeria, Mercy Corps is responding to the humanitarian crisis, working to provide both emergency response and early recovery programs across multiple sectors — including water, sanitation, and hygiene; nutrition; shelter; cash assistance; protection; food security, agriculture and livelihoods; and youth empowerment.
Who are the people and communities you work with?
We work with different groups of people who are considered to be vulnerable, most notably within conflict-affected households in northeast Nigeria.
Many people we work with are from the host communities, including internally-displaced people, and people who have returned to the communities to resettle.
We provide lifesaving assistance, especially food assistance, to over 18,500 households and shelter to about 4,000 households.
We focus specifically on providing malnourished children and their families with fresh food assistance, and ensuring that their families are supported with livelihoods options, such as poultry and backyard farming.
We prioritize providing services to female-headed households, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, child-headed households, elderly households, and people with disabilities.
What are the difficulties and challenges you're facing amid the COVID-19 outbreak?
We are worried that there aren't enough resources to address the crisis in case of an outbreak in the host communities and camps where people are often overcrowded. There's also the issue of inadequate materials to respond to COVID-19 in northeast Nigeria.
But we are also experiencing a lack of awareness of COVID-19 too. Unfortunately, there are no health facilities that could help in case of an outbreak, which is quite worrisome.
However, we are following guidance from the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], WHO [World Health Organization], and public health authorities to promote handwashing and other safety measures in our operations, and communication with participants in our programs.
What impact is that having on your programme participants?
We are prioritizing life-saving activities, such as food assistance and water trucking, so vulnerable households will continue receiving food and water to provide to their families.
As we can, we are rescheduling large-gatherings that are not time-critical. We are most concerned with ensuring that we reach people with food to survive daily.
What do you as an aid worker need the international community to do to support your work?
We need more COVID-19 testing centers to make sure that those people who have tested positive can receive the necessary care and treatment.
Overall, the COVID-19 outbreak is an added burden to an already existing, prolonged crisis where people have been suffering for a long time. Should there be an outbreak in overcrowded areas, we fear there is a high risk that many people will suffer.
We will need more funds to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. We appeal for donors to be flexible to allow an extension on intervention periods lost due to the COVID-19 outbreak. A well-coordinated response from the international community would do well to prevent a severe impact on vulnerable populations.
You can join the global efforts against coronavirus by taking meaningful action through our Together At Home campaign — including actions like calling on G20 leaders to support the effort to develop a vaccine; calling on EU leaders to protect refugees in Europe; spreading the word about the WHO's COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, and more.
You can see all of Global Citizen's COVID-19 coverage here.