When donors run out, starving IDPs resort to cashews and mangoes for sustenance.

The coronavirus pandemic triggered a slew of economic problems. Most countries are unable to keep their heads above water, and donor organisations are having difficulty attracting sufficient funding from their donors, causing humanitarian efforts to suffer in many areas of the world.

Prior to the pandemic, the Durumi, Area 1 Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Abuja, the Federal Capital, was the go-to donation point for people, international and local non-governmental organisations, and diplomatic offices such as those of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Israel, the United States of America (USA), South Africa, Britain, and Iran. They had a habit of storming the centre with money and truckloads of food, clothing, and narcotics, among other necessities.

Much of that, though, is now in the past, according to Umar Gola, the camp’s Public Relations Officer, who claimed that things have improved dramatically after the pandemic’s outbreak. Donors have been restrained, and even those who have arrived are fearful of contracting the virus from the camp.

“With the way people avoid us, it’s as if COVID-19 evolved from IDPs,” Gola said. When we contact our donors now, they advise us that they cannot come or risk sending anyone to us at this time because the plague is all over the place and we can not mix with the people who are coming to us.

“We receive between 70 and 75 percent of our contributions from overseas donors, who are now the hardest hit by the pandemic. They haven’t helped us in almost 13 months.”

He mentioned that prior to the pandemic’s spread, the majority of those in the camp ate three meals a day. “But today, if you meet someone who can afford two meals a day, that means he is doing enough to support himself.

“The majority of people in the camp no longer eat twice a day. Some people now eat three to four days a week and substitute with water, which causes stomach pains.”

He said that for the time being, the only assistance they get is from nature, “because we are in fruit season and we are surrounded by mango and cashew plantations.” Our women and children are constantly fed. At the moment, at least half of our population are subsisting solely on fruits.”

Hajara Suleiman, a 32-year-old mother of eight, said she was still excited when she learned that visitors were coming to share food with the camp’s children.

•Laboratory for IDPs in Durumi

“I made certain that all of my children were there, and that they were fed, so that I wouldn’t have to worry about what they would eat for the remainder of the day. “I would just take a spoon or two from each boy, and that would be it,” she said.

Unfortunately, she added, such goodwill is becoming more difficult to come by. “Nowadays, we barely ever get a visit in a month. As a result, my children and I are now solely dependent on cashew and mango for survival.”

She said that prior to the pandemic, the IDPs were in the habit of meeting often and people were always coming and carrying donations.

“They would carry food, clothing, and even sanitary pads. But now that we don’t have any guests, we can’t afford necessities like sanitary pads. Many who have children would prefer to feed their children with the little money they have.

“Cashew is our biggest saving grace right now. Every day, I take six of my eight children with me and we spend the whole day in the cashew plantation near our camp. We consume the fruit and market the dried nuts for N250 per mudu (about 1.3kg).

“At the moment, it is the only thing keeping us from going hungry. When I sell it and collect the N250, I go out and buy corn for food before returning the next day. And if I haven’t found customers by the end of the day, I collect the corn on credit and pay it back when they arrive.”

Why is help dwindling?

According to a study titled ‘How NGOs Should Address Post-COVID-19 Challenges’ released by Western Union Business Solutions, “as quarantine closures are gradually lifted across the world, life is beginning to return to normal for many industries.” The same cannot be said for non-governmental organisations, which are especially hard hit by the pandemic’s economic consequences.

“As employment cuts, slowed profits, and other financial difficulties persist, it is becoming more difficult to collect or even sustain donations.”

Another research, titled ‘COVID-19 Could Mean the End of Small Charities,’ published by Siraj Datoo in Bloomberg on May 17, 2020, reported that charitable organisations around the world have struggled in recent months, with revenue and donation sources drying up as tens of millions of people lost their jobs or faced greater financial difficulties.

According to a survey conducted for Dunham+Company, approximately 53% of donors said they intend to give more cautiously after the pandemic but will continue to contribute, while 20% said they will stop before there is a return to economic development.

How Nigerian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are dealing with the situation

COVID-19 has also had a major effect on medical humanitarian organisations such as Doctors Without Borders Nigeria. Dr. Simba Tirima, the Country Representative, clarified that the epidemic is affecting countries that mostly offer assistance to Africa.

He acknowledged that many problems had arisen as a result of the lockdown, adding, “Remember that there was no travel during the lockdown, and normally, we rely on those specialists from the west to come and assist.”

“Not because we don’t have experts here, but there are particular specialties on which we depend in terms of foreign personnel who can come to help handle our humanitarian interventions, and at one point, that was not necessary, so we relied on our host country staff to do some of the job.

“In spite of the effect on our humanitarian activities, we had to be resourceful to ask ourselves, ‘What can we have in the world that will help us continue to serve the people that we do?’

We looked into it and realised that we may have experience in the nation in which to depend, so some of our activity centres began concentrating more on what we might do for host country personnel.

“While we are unable to obtain certain specialties, which is disappointing, we do need surgeons in some specialties. We do have surgeons in Nigeria, for example, but there could be certain programmes that need very precise items that we were unable to obtain at one stage.

“For example, in Sokoto, we have the Noma scheme, and we almost always get surgeons from outside. We also get plastic surgeons, and because we want to create capability in Nigeria, we pair them with Nigerians. Any of the chances could be lost.”

The Restoration of Hope Initiative (ROHI) is a non-profit organisation based in Maiduguri, Borno State, that implements education, child protection, and livelihood programmes in IDP camps throughout the Northeast.

Nice Dibal, the Public Relations Officer, acknowledged that the pandemic had harmed the world economy, leading to the cancellation of many events and the downsizing of many organisations.

“However, the storey is a little different for ROHI,” she said.

“We have not downsized our office specifically, and our proposal has not been cancelled. The majority of our support comes from UN organisations such as UNICEF and OCHA.

“However, the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced the amount of initiatives we will carry out.

“We had other donor-funded programmes prior to 2020. Despite the fact that it ended in the promise of rebirth, the initiative was clearly unable to proceed due to the pandemic and the global economic crisis.

“Also, owing to the pandemic, there are fewer demands for submissions, making rivalry among organisations extremely difficult.”

Life in the camp after the pandemic’s outbreak

Hajara Suleiman admitted that members of the camp had received several contributions at the start of the pandemic, saying, “The government supported us with palliatives at the start of the pandemic.” A small bag of grains, five sachets of noodles, a container of olive oil, and a small bag of rice were sent to me. I got through it, and it lasted my family nine days.”

Gola, on the other hand, maintained that the donations had not been made by the government. He said that the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) just escorted the TY Danjuma Foundation, which delivered truckloads of food to camps in Abuja.

Umar Gola
Umar Gola

“Some of these overseas NGOs are unknown to us,” he said. They simply send their members to Nigeria to carry us products. At times, we simply receive phone calls from people in other countries who tell us they saw our stories online and gave us money. However, after the pandemic, we have not even got their calls, let alone donations.

“We have a 10×40 container that we turned into a clinic and another into a labour space. For you to understand the scale of our pain, about five or six women gave birth in the camp yesterday, and they used nylon bags as hand gloves.”

According to Hajara, “life has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic began.” We have not seen anybody infected with the virus, but we know it does because if it did not happen, we would not be going through what we are going through now, with people ignoring us as if we are the virus itself.”

What could trigger a shift?

Gola claims that, despite the FCT government’s repeated warnings to return to their home states, Borno and Yobe are already unsafe, and they are unable to risk their lives.

“What we are hoping and asking the government to do is move us to certain areas of Nasarawa State where we can farm,” he said. We don’t want to go back to the Northeast because there isn’t any protection there. My village Madagali in Adamawa State is right now is a no go area.

“You can’t go over the village’s border for four or five miles and come back alive. We can only go out to get firewood if we are escorted by military personnel. They would first set fire to the brush at random for about 30 minutes before allowing our people to go look for firewood. And they’ll just have an hour to get it and return it.

“Some people from my local government had an Italian church purchase a large plot of land in Nasarawa for them, build two-bedroom houses for each household, instal solar for them, build a kindergarten, church, mosque, football field for the girls, pay teachers for 20 years, and keep a white man there to supervise the teachers. They were given vehicles, as well as a bus in case of an emergency, and Total cards, so they don’t have to buy petrol with their money.

“That is just what we want from the administration. We’ve told the government about it many times, and they keep telling us that they’ll send a letter to the President, but nothing has changed yet.”

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