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‘No Place Like Home’: Hunger And The Burning Desire Of IDPs In Benue

Soonest Nathaniel  
Updated August 21, 2021

 

Samuel Kyaahu, 46, lives in a makeshift tent with his wife and three children. It is from the confines of that small space that they find ways to navigate uncertainty and adapt to a new normal.

Four years ago, they were displaced from their village in Torkula along with many others and fled to the Mbawa Internally Displaced Peoples Camp in Daudu – a satellite town along the Makurdi-Lafia highway.

The camp, provided by international NGO Medecins Sans Frontiers, has tents for over 10,000 internally displaced persons, a health centre, and access to water and sanitation services, among other things.

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But it is not home.

The IDPs want to return to the homes they were forced to flee and need the help of the government to rebuild, resettle and plan for a better future.

“I have three children here with me and they do not go to school. They are here suffering with me. I think tomorrow will be worse than this,” Samuel says, expressing fears for his children’s future under the circumstances.

Samuel and his family are not alone in this appeal. Comfort Bako who is pregnant with her 7th child says there is nowhere like home, if only security is assured.

“If the government can help us to stop the fight so that everyone can go back to their homes and work, we will be able to struggle as we were doing before to get something to take care of the children,” she says in pidgin English.

At the camp, there are many weary faces – from the aged to distressed mothers; all worrying about what to eat with their families and how to educate their children, a situation that gets tougher with each passing day.

Feeding is a major challenge for the IDPs. Due to the large population at the camp, the government’s food supplies are never enough. To supplement this, some of the IDPs resort to cooking almost-spoiled or perishing food items sourced from dealers in the local market.

Many residents of Benue State have been displaced by violence.
Many residents of Benue State have been displaced by violence.

 

“For the issue of food, the government is trying,” says Camp Manager Comfort Alugah. “But the government cannot satisfy everybody.”

Mrs Alugah attributes the challenge to the population at the camp which she put at 43,344.

In terms of health care, the Mbawa IDP camp has a maternal and child health clinic operated by Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF).

The clinic has been providing care for the babies delivered in the camp and their mothers, with assistance from the Benue State Ministry of Health, ensuring safe delivery after months of antenatal services.

Interventions by the MSF at the camp also include the provision of emergency primary health care, emergency water and sanitation services, and shelter.

“We have also recently included programmes of reproductive health, and sexual and gender-based violence response,” says Project Coordinator MSF, Benue State, Prosper Ndumuraro.

MSF, which provides such medical intervention across the state, says the IDPs are doing better than when they first came to the camp but a lot more needs to be done.

The IDPs, while grateful to be alive, will rather bring up their families in their own homes, hence the continuous appeal for government to hasten the resettlement plans.

An overwhelming task

For some close observers of the attacks and violence that has displaced a multitude of people in Benue State, going home at this moment is like returning to a den of hungry lions. Many of the IDPs such as Comfort Bako believe the violence has to stop for them to return home and have any shot at a positive future.

Governor Samuel Ortom is also worried about the plight of the IDPs and the continuing attacks.

 

“We never envisaged that we will have 500 IDPs (in Benue) and then it (the figure) will rise to over 1.5 million and we are still counting,” the governor lamented when he visited and IDP camp in Ortese, last week.

With over a million people now displaced in the state, satisfying the needs of the IDPs have become “extremely difficult”, says the governor, who has called government at all levels to close ranks and provide for the huge number of displaced persons.

Within the past decade, hundreds of people have fled from attacks, attributed to armed herdsmen, on n rural farming communities within Benue State and are taking refuge in various official and unofficial camps, many with just mosquito nets as shelter.

Interventions from the government and support from humanitarian non-governmental organizations have gone a long way in helping the IDPs combat ailments, diseases, hunger, starvation and a dearth of water supply.

Within the duration of their stay in different camps, many IDPs have been exposed to new study programs and skill acquisition exercises, however, for many of these individuals, there is still something that leaves them unfulfilled – they miss their homes.

Through thick and thin, the IDPs of Benue have a burning desire to return home and the big questions is who will make that possible.