Gender and Development

Nigeria’s Humanitarian Crisis Remains Inconspicuous and Neglected

Nigeria is currently seeing one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world, yet it is going largely unnoticed. Contributor James Ladi Williams provides an analysis of the catastrophic situation that continues to wreak havoc on the lives of the displaced people of Nigeria.


Nigeria’s humanitarian crisis is receiving limited global attention. In the last five years, more than 15,000 Nigerians have lost their lives to Boko Haram’s terror. Over 1.62 million people have fled their homes in Northeast Nigeria as a result of the violence, while the total number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Nigeria at large totals over 2 million. The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates there are currently 1.8 million internally displaced people in the six northeast states. Borno—the site of the “accidental” IDP camp bombing that killed dozens of Nigerians and for which no one has been brought to account—has been affected most significantly. About 60% of the displaced live within this state. Boko Haram’s strategy of capturing territory has exacerbated the displacement of populations, while the legitimate fear of violence has prompted people to flee their homes. Many families have even had to cross the border into Cameroon, Chad, and Niger in search of refuge.

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Displacement and Movement of IDPs as of July 2017. Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Right now, there are 4.7 million Nigerians in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states alone who do not know where their next meal will come from. Approximately 244,000 children are currently severely malnourished, with about 49,000 at risk of death, according to the World Food Programme. At least 10 IDPs have died every day since the start of the insurgency, with a majority of them being children. Even the food that is available has been grossly inadequate and of poor quality. Nearly 80 percent of the IDPs state that their access to water is poor. Relatedly, over 32,000 IDPs in Borno State last year suffered from Cholera, a disease caused by ingestion of contaminated food and water. More recently, outbreaks of yellow fever have marred the livelihoods of those living within camps. Apart from the food and water insecurity, evidence has emerged showing that security officials continue to rape and abuse women in IDP camps in exchange for food or the freedom to move around camps. Women and young girls lack access to sanitary pads and dignity kits, which increases the likelihood of females falling prey to diseases.

These are not data points. These are real people—families, women and children—with dreams and aspirations. Lives have been disrupted and futures remain uncertain. They are not objects of pity, but whole beings that deserve to lead lives that they have always imagined for themselves. Many of the people who were driven out of their homes and communities led full lives with dreams and aspirations. From children to adults, their access to education and vocations have now been limited. The last thing of concern in IDP camps, where they are angling to find their next meal, is people’s access to psychosocial and rehabilitation services. A life free from physical and psychosocial terror proves elusive.

By many standards, the situation in Northeast Nigeria is one of the most severe humanitarian crises in the world, yet we are not paying enough attention to it. It is among the most underreported humanitarian crises in the world.  Like many  humanitarian crises happening elsewhere, politics and national security considerations seem to matter more than the people caught within conflict. It is, thus, necessary for us as humans to show deep concern for the dire situation IDPs are faced with in Nigeria.

We should care. Human suffering of this scale should concern us, and cause us to think critically about the direction in which our world is heading. What’s more, we should acknowledge that this could happen to anyone. Internal displacement is a phenomenon that has becoming increasingly common in states affected by violence or climate change. There is an urgent need for actors to reconcile strategies focused on security with community development and humanitarian relief in settings within and beyond Nigeria.

Nigerians like myself who are far from the crisis must resist the urge to ignore it simply because it seems to be happening at a distance—the same goes for the rest of the world. Let us instead tap into our shared humanity with the people of northeast Nigeria and act in accordance with this responsibility to help improve their immediate reality.

This is not a call for pity; it is also not a call to imagine ourselves as the saviors in a deeply complex crisis. It is instead a call for empathy, which should spur each of us into action.

Make a donation; reach out; tell your friends about what’s going on in Nigeria; write about it; visit an IDP camp; call your Congressman.

Do something now.

James Ladi Williams is a second-year public policy student at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He specializes in International Development policy, with a regional interest in Sub-Saharan Africa.  

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.

Photo Credit: Tee Jay Dan, Box Office Studios

The #BeFREECampaign at Princeton University is raising funds to support women, children and families affected by the conflict in Northeast Nigeria. All donations will support the Foundation for Refugee Economic Empowerment in providing humanitarian relief to people affected by conflict in Northeast Nigeria. Click here to make a donation today.


  1. Amazing as a Nigerian to read about these things. So underreported especially when the President and govt at large do nothing. Will be sharing and reposting.


  2. Wow I didn’t know how bad the situation was in our country. Thank you for taking the time to write about this. I’m praying for Nigeria.

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