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Wanted: Volunteers to avert humanitarian disaster



Nigeria needs volunteers to help save millions of lives

By Geoff Prewit


The looming humanitarian crisis hovering over Nigeria is largely invisible from the streets of Abuja. The word famine is spoken and makes front page news, but deep in the capital city, life goes on largely unaffected by the daily uncertainty that has plagued the North-eastern region of the country. The crisis has been unfolding for years.

In Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states, the ongoing threat of horrific acts by the insurgency of Boko Haram coupled to the worse drought of recent history have made tending of the land and harvesting of crops nearly impossible for the rural populations. This double scourge is pushing millions of Nigerians beyond the brink.

As the country faces a humanitarian crisis of dire proportions, almost two million Nigerians have been displaced in the Northeast and more than five million people will risk facing food shortages over the next few months. Millions risk starvation, including nearly half a million children. The urgent need for action cannot be ignored, here in Nigeria or abroad.

Efforts by the United Nations through the Humanitarian Response Plan for Nigeria are underway to increase funding for food aid and life-saving humanitarian assistance, yet commitments from donors remain low. This forces UN agencies in Nigeria to consider carefully the needs of those most at risk in hope that funding will increase before the threat of famine reaches catastrophic proportions. Millions of lives are at stake. The UN family in Nigeria is working tirelessly to provided needed relief but recognize that more should be done.

Addressing the needs of the population will require more than money, it will require willing hands and hearts. In times of crisis, the valuable role of volunteers should never be underestimated. The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme is ready to deploy in Nigeria much needed personnel to complement the existing resources of UN agencies within the country. Our partnerships with more than 30 UN agencies allow us to mobilise UN Volunteers across a wide range of functions, recruiting both nationally and internationally, in fields of health, sanitation, agriculture, logistics, child protection, supply management—the list goes on.

Whether in South or Southeast Asia following a devastating tsunami or typhoon; in mountain regions of Nepal or Ecuador following a powerful earthquake; or in Western Africa following the pandemic outbreak of Ebola, the surge of local volunteerism and the service of UN Volunteers have proven effective in saving lives during times of crisis. UNV has the experience needed to deliver hundreds, if not thousands, of UN Volunteers to the field, greatly reducing the risk of unnecessarily losing valuable lives.

We call upon all UN agencies to intensify their heroic efforts thus far and continue to provide much needed support to the innocent communities of North-eastern Nigeria. As a collective, we may avoid looking back and saying to ourselves, we could have done more, we should have done more.


Prewitt, Chief of the Development Programming Section at United Nations Volunteers, Bonn, travelled through Nigeria recently, including visits to Borno State.


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