Hamsatu Adamu carefully measures out uncooked rice into a large bowl. She hands the bowl to her daughter, Bilkisu. “I bought this food from the food vendor,” Hamsatu says as she sets out fish, pepper, onions and stock cubes to prepare the family’s noon meal. “They let us pick the food we want.”
As recently as 4 months ago, this was rare in Hamsatu’s household. Food was scarce, and when a meal was available, it was usually made from millet or corn flour—the cheapest food available.
Hamsatu and her children live in Dapchi, in the state of Yobe, Nigeria.
In northeast Nigeria, Boko Haram has triggered a humanitarian crisis. More than 2.1 million people have been forced to flee their homes. Yobe, Adamawa and Borno are three of the most affected states. Nearly 7 million people—more than half of whom are children—need humanitarian assistance.
Stretching Resources to Meet Communal Needs
In 2014, at the height of the insurgency, Hamsatu’s husband fell ill and died.
“As I was mourning my husband, all I could think about was how to provide for our six sons and four daughters. My oldest daughter is divorced. She and her son also live with me.”
Hamsatu had to pull her children out of school so they could help her sell spices to earn money to survive. She also began selling cooked food at the market, but she could still barely afford two meals a day for her family. Several times, she and her children went to bed hungry.
“When our rent ran out, we had nowhere to go. We had to move to a small plot of land my husband bought before he died. We built a shelter with raffia and sacks. When the rains came, it provided barely any shelter, but we had nowhere else to go.”
As displaced people flee from violence, they settle in urban areas or in communities where they have relatives. This has led to a population explosion in communities across the state. In an area with a history of economic deprivation, more than 78% of internally displaced people, or IDPs, live in host communities. Host families share their food and resources, like shelter, water and health facilities. This places pressure on infrastructures that are already strained.
Vouchers Bring Sorely Needed Supplies
Haruna Husaini is 63 and the eldest in his family. Twenty-seven people live in his household, including his 8 children. Two of his brothers fled with their families when their communities were attacked. They all now live with Haruna in Dapchi.
“I have to take care of my younger siblings. No matter how hard things may be, you do not turn family away when they need you,” Haruna says.
Like many in the region, Haruna is a farmer. But people are discouraged from growing crops taller than their waist now, so Boko Haram cannot hide in their fields. This means that in some areas farmers have been unable to cultivate their fields for 3 years.
In addition, markets and the roads that access them are often targets of bombings and attacks. Therefore, even in areas where farming has continued, people cannot sell their harvests. Farming families that traditionally grew their own food now must buy their meals, and on lower incomes than before.
CRS is providing food as well as water, sanitation and hygiene, or WASH, assistance to Hamsatu, Haruna and thousands of other IDPs and vulnerable host community families in Yobe and Borno. Funding is provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development. People in need receive electronic vouchers, which have three “wallets.”
Using her first wallet, Hamsatu buys staple foods like rice, beans and pasta, which account for 70% of her total food budget. With her second wallet, she purchases nutrient-rich food like meat, fish and vegetables, using the remaining 30% of her food budget. And with her third wallet, she buys nonfood essentials like shoes for her children, sleeping mats, jerrycans, soap, and water purification tablets. Each family member gets $8 per month stored in their 2 food wallets, and families receive a total of $10 per month in their nonfood wallet.
“With all the people living in my household, we simply cannot afford some items. For months, we washed using only water. I used my card to purchase soap, and for the first time in almost a year I took a bath with soap.”
Cash and Asset Transfer
With limited access to water, hygiene and sanitation items, diseases can quickly affect communities. As a prerequisite to receiving food and WASH items from CRS, people must attend nutrition and hygiene classes once a month. At class, they learn how to prepare nutritious meals using local food. They also learn proper hygiene practices.
“My children become ill less often now. They are no longer constantly hungry and lethargic. They no longer have to help me sell spices just to make ends meet. I have put them back in school and they attend classes regularly,” Hamsatu says.
Working alongside the Federation of Muslim Women’s Associations in Nigeria, the NIRA Community Development Foundation, the Northeast Youth Initiative Forum and local Caritas partners, CRS helps displaced families and vulnerable host community households meet their food and hygiene needs through a strategy called Cash and Asset Transfer. CRS tops up electronic vouchers with credit, and families use this credit to purchase food and nonfood items from registered vendors.
“The conflict has had a devastating effect on the rural economy. Prices of essential commodities have risen above the reach of a majority of rural households,” says Kenneth Oyik, CRS emergency coordinator in Yobe. “In 2017, we have injected more than $2.1 million for food and about $200,000 for hygiene items into markets in the state of Yobe. This has strengthened the local market and provided capital for vendors to finance restocking. This means food and necessary items are always available for families to purchase.”
Hamsatu now saves part of the money from her spice business. Her first priority is to complete a mud house on her land. “By the time the rains come, we will have four walls around us and a roof over our heads that does not leak,” she says with a smile.
CRS programs in Yobe are part of a strategy for Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad. These are the four countries in the broader Lake Chad basin affected by Boko Haram. CRS provides lifesaving food, WASH and shelter assistance to conflict-affected families. CRS is expanding in the region to provide agricultural support that will aid recovery and facilitate livelihoods.
Copyright 2017 Dooshima Tsee for Catholic Relief Services
About the author: Dooshima Tsee is a marketing and communications manager with Catholic Relief Services, operating out of Nigeria. For more about CRS programming in Nigera, visit the CRS Nigeria page. For more about how you can help Catholic Relief Services in their twin missions to promote human development overseas and serve Catholics in the US by as they live their faith in solidarity with their brothers and sisters overseas, visit www.crs.org/get-involved.