Famine Threatens Northeast Nigeria

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A Crisis-tested University Prepares for the “Worst Yet Seen”

As deaths from the famine in Northeastern Nigeria increase and the international humanitarian community grows increasingly aware of famine condition there, scene of a years-long terrorist insurgency, the American University of Nigeria (AUN) has instructed its community-based networks to prepare to care for massive numbers of hungry and starving people.

Nigeria is on the brink of “a famine unlike any we have ever seen anywhere,” said the UN’s Assistant Secretary-General Toby Lanzer. He said nearly a quarter of a million children in Nigeria’s northeast are severely malnourished.

According to AUN President Margee Ensign, the number of at risk people is between three and five million. “Getting an accurate estimate is difficult,” she said, “because probably more than one million people, many of them women and children, are in remote areas that have become more isolated due to damage inflicted on roads and bridges by the Boko Haram terrorists.”

Although the terrorist fighters have been pushed from their strongholds by the Nigerian army, most farmers fled their land to escape being killed, or weren’t able to plant crops at all, both factors contributing to the current crisis. During a recent crop seed distribution funded in part by the U.S. government and AUN’s founder and a former Nigerian vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, internally displaced people who recently returned to their villages to farm were so desperately hungry that they wanted to eat the seeds. Instead, food was provided to the farmers and their families so that the seeds would be planted and more people would have food later.

According to Dr. Ensign, enough seeds were distributed to grow beans, sorghum and other staples to feed about 75,000 people, a fraction of those in need. “This was a valuable experiment to demonstrate that we could actually get the seeds to remote areas to help the most desperate people,” she said. “We’re ready to use the local networks we’ve developed, consisting of Muslim, Christian and community leaders, to distribute food to those most in need.

AUN and the Adamawa Peace Initiative (API), at the height of the violence caused by Boko Haram, fed nearly 300,000 displaced people in and around the city of Yola, where the University is located. More than 100,000 displaced people continue to be fed, often on the grounds of local mosques and churches. Most of the funding comes from local sources. But the scope of the current disaster will require massive international intervention, according to University and other experts.

John Campbell, a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, last week in Washington, D.C., told members of the Congressional Black Caucus and others interested in U.S. foreign policy towards Africa that he is very concerned about how little is known about what’s happening in northeast Nigeria. He said that the Doctors Without Borders organization has reported that children in refugee camps are dying daily from malnutrition and related illnesses. “It’s heartbreaking as it is unnecessary,” he said.

He lauded AUN’s programs and said that they are the right mix of deftly delivered humanitarian assistance while simultaneously engaged in women’s empowerment, conflict resolution, workforce training, and literacy instruction for the region’s large population of out-of-school children. “As a world community, we can’t just deal with the symptoms of these crises,” he said. “We need sustained, collaborative effort to find long-term solutions.”

Donations to AUN-API programs can be made via the American University Foundation at http://www.aunf.org.

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About American University of Nigeria (AUN)

The American University of Nigeria (AUN), located in Yola in Adamawa state in northeastern Nigeria, is the only American-style university in Sub-Saharan Africa. Founded in 2004, AUN’s unique mission is to be a development university that helps its community and society achieve equitable and sustainable prosperity, where everyone has the freedom and opportunity to pursue their dreams in peace. AUN teaches the importance of development from within: all AUN undergraduate students are required to work on one of the university’s development projects. Students thus graduate with both theoretical knowledge from the classroom as well as the inspiration and ability to apply their academic know-how to find practical solutions in the “real” world. They become leaders in helping to solve the region’s most pressing challenges.

About the Adamawa Peace Initiative (API)

The Adamawa Peace Initiative was formed in 2012 to respond to the threat of violence and growing unrest. With various programs, including Peace through Sports, aimed at fostering peace through education, empowerment and community development, this partnership brought the academic leaders of AUN and the religious and community leaders of API together to create a unified peace and reconciliation strategy that has had a broad impact. The cooperation and progress that have already emerged from this locally developed peace initiative and their programs could ultimately serve as a model for similar efforts far beyond the borders of Adamawa State and Nigeria.

About American University of Nigeria Foundation (AUNF)

The American University of Nigeria Foundation is an independent tax exempt U.S.-based 501(c)3 nonprofit. AUNF’s mission is to raise funds for the American University of Nigeria to provide education for vulnerable Nigerian youth and humanitarian assistance (including food, medicine and clothing) to Internally Displaced Persons who have fled from Boko Haram. To learn more about the American University of Nigerian Foundation and to donate, visit http://www.aunf.org.

Conover + Gould Strategic Communications is sending this information on behalf of the American University of Nigeria. Additional information is on file with the U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, District of Columbia.

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Douglas Barry
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