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Nigeria

Caught In The Crossfire In Nigeria

Refugees who fled Boko Haram in Maiduguri, Nigeria, last October
Refugees who fled Boko Haram in Maiduguri, Nigeria, last October
Sruthi Gottipati

-Analysis-

With the violence that ISIS has sown in the West, it's sometimes easy to forget about Boko Haram, another Islamist terror outfit, which while pledging allegiance to ISIS has confined its horrors to western Africa. There, it has killed an estimated 20,000 people since 2009, with methods of murder that have included using young girls as suicide bombers, establishing itself as one of the bloodiest insurgencies in the world.

On Tuesday, a Nigerian military fighter jet bombed a refugee camp in the northeastern town of Rann, part of a turbulent corner shared with Chad and Cameroon, that has seen Boko Haram step up attacks in recent weeks. The Nigerian military said the bombing, which killed 70 civilians including nine aid workers, was an accident in its fight to oust the extremist group.

The incident threw a spotlight on the plight of Nigerians trying to escape Boko Haram's assaults. The Rann camp was one such place for the 2 million Nigerians who have fled their homes. But Tuesday's tragic human toll also points to another problem that has received scant attention — the military's heavy-handed treatment of civilians in its quest to purge Boko Haram.

Aftermath of Tuesday's bombing — Photo: Medecins Sans Frontieres

Global activist groups say the response of security forces has included serious violations of human rights and international law. A 2015 Amnesty International report detailed "shocking levels of deaths in military custody, extrajudicial executions, torture, unlawful detention and arbitrary arrests."

Human Rights Watch also reports: "Since 2009, hundreds of men and boys in the northeast have been rounded up and detained in inhumane conditions for suspected membership or provision of support for Boko Haram." The watchdog notes that security forces implicated in abuses have rarely been prosecuted, leading to a culture of impunity.

The Guardian, a newspaper based in Lagos, reports that Nigerian opposition politicians called for an independent investigation of Tuesday's camp bombing. Such a probe could be one step toward culling that culture of impunity that leaves too many civilians in the crossfire.

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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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