In northeast Nigeria, where armed conflict has forced millions from their homes, the UN’s migration agency, IOM, is supporting the construction of quarantine shelters, as the region braces for an outbreak of COVID-19 which, it warns, would have ‘devastating consequences’ for those who have been displaced.
Displaced people there already face outbreaks of several deadly diseases, including cholera, malaria and measles, and fighting has severely weakened the health system: more than a third of facilities have been destroyed in attacks, and there is limited access to drinking water and sanitation infrastructure.
IOM fears an outbreak of COVID-19 would exacerbate the current situation, placing further stress on disrupted health systems, and potentially overwhelm the response capacity of international humanitarian agencies. A rise in cases is also likely to increase current projections of people in need.
COVID-19 is arriving in northeast Nigeria with the region some ten years into a brutal conflict that has led to around 7.9 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. 2019 saw an upsurge in violence, and more than 180,000 people fled their homes.
The renewed conflict has restricted humanitarian operations, with aid workers increasingly the focus of armed groups. Humanitarian offices and accommodation have been hit, and 12 aid workers killed in the last year. Only 15 per cent of Borno State is currently accessible to humanitarian agencies.
Given the rapidly evolving situation in Nigeria and across the world, we must ensure that the health of displaced and host communities is a central part of our response. Despite the instability, the UN and partners are forging ahead with quarantine shelter construction, which will serve internally displaced people and host communities.