By Cecilia Ologunagba
New York, Nov. 20, 2023
The United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Mr. Matthias Schmale has canvassed sustained support to meet the humanitarian needs in northeast Nigeria.
Schmale said this while answering questions from the UN correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in New York during a news conference on the humanitarian situation in Nigeria.
Schmale, who was in New York to attend the Resident Coordinators’ retreat told NAN that he had earlier visited Washington DC, where he discussed humanitarian, development and peacebuilding challenges and opportunities.
“I’ve spent two days with my colleagues in the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Washington to try and drum up support to get the funding gap closed.
“But you know, we are part of the global trend in Nigeria of increasing humanitarian needs with funding not holding up to that,’’ he said.
He also met with officials from the U.S. State Department, USAID, the U.S. Institute of Peace, civil society and the media as well as senior staffers from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.
He highlighted the troubling humanitarian situation in northeastern Nigeria and the importance of international support and strengthened partnerships to address humanitarian needs, accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, and combat violent extremism.
According to him, the organisation will soon launch its Humanitarian Response Plan 2024 and it will be realistic about funding trends and prioritise its support to the vulnerable girls and women.
“We’re trying to make sure that 700,000 malnourished children, severely malnourished kids, get the food they need and the protection they need.
“We’re trying to prioritise and use the resources; we hope we will get next year as effectively and efficiently as we can.
“There’s no doubt that neither this year nor, we anticipate, next year we will get what we want which really forces us into difficult decisions, and some people will be left out.’’
The UN official said humanitarian response plan funding had remained low, citing the Humanitarian Response Plan 2023, saying, it remains significantly low at roughly a bit over a third of what the organisation needed.
Schmale said that the situation in northeast Nigeria was far from over, noting the presence of a continued non-international armed conflict that is affecting a lot of people.
“We think more than eight million people remain in need of assistance.
“We will soon launch the humanitarian response plan for next year and we aim to reach five million that are in need of assistance.
“So one element of the humanitarian dimension of this armed conflict, as you know, has to do with Boko Haram. I use Boko Haram as a summary term.
“You will be aware there are different factions, and I think the second point I want to make is that Nigeria remains very much a part of the fight against violent extremism,’’ he said.
According to him, the situation in the northeast is a protection crisis and he advocated that the UN stays involved in supporting the Nigerian government to protect these vulnerable people.
He said it was not just about addressing humanitarian needs like food, but protecting people and especially women and girls.
“Secondly, we see the investment into the humanitarian work there as prevention, preventing the violent extremism from spreading further,
“You are aware, there’s very much a dimension of the Sahel in this, we are very worried about the situation in Niger of course, which remains unresolved.
“This could have further impact on neighbouring countries also in humanitarian terms, including Nigeria,’’ he said.
In addition, he said Nigeria had come out of the seventh election since 1999.
“I think we need to recognise that with all the uncertainty and the troubles across the Sahel and West Africa, Nigeria remains a stable country, a democratic country, and we owe it to them to recognise that and to partner with them.’’
He, however, expressed regret that the UN sought support to reach four million in 2023 but could not reach them as it had to prioritise its support due to funding challenges.
“It’s not always easy to look at what impact that has, but I will argue that the 700,000 severely malnourished children that I mentioned, that is an increase over last year, is an example.
“It is an example that of a fact, if you can’t do the preventive humanitarian work, you will see rising numbers of malnourished children as we saw this year, that’s how that shows.
“So it’s not necessarily at the point of starvation and dramatic consequences like that, but especially children and vulnerable women are beginning to feel the brunt of us not being able to support what we should be supporting,’’ the official said.