Over 100,000 people are currently housed in Dikwa’s city center, a city in conflict-affected northeastern Nigeria.
“You know, the place we had the group discussion last month was originally the general hospital,” Falmata explained as she sipped a cup of tea.
The attack on Dikwa, to which Falmata was referring, began in 2009 when an armed uprising broke out in neighboring Maiduguri, capital of Borno state. Hundreds of thousands of civilians in northeastern Nigeria were killed or displaced in the fighting that followed.
In March 2015, fighters overran several townships in Borno state, including Dikwa, whose entire population fled to Maiduguri. Government troops supported by the Chadian army then retook Dikwa and have since maintained a security area on the outskirts of the city.
In 2019, this situation was formalized in Dikwa and elsewhere when a limited number of garrison towns with increased military presence were established in northeast Nigeria – so-called “supercamps” where civilians were supposed to gather for their own safety.
Today more than 100,000 people are housed in downtown Dikwa and in several overcrowded camps on the periphery. Three out of four residents are displaced farmers and ranchers. They have no access to their land and are deprived of their livelihoods. They rely almost entirely on humanitarian aid to survive.
Resources are scarce, including access to clean water and sanitation. Food prices have risen and malnutrition is on the rise. People are selling the soap they received from humanitarian organizations because they have no other means to make money. Cholera is a constant threat.
“Before we left Dikwa because of the fighting, we had this general hospital where people could go to the primary health clinic as well as care. When we returned, both of them disappeared. The hospital had been ransacked and ransacked, the clinic burned down – all the staff were gone fled. For a while there was no more worry. “
Falmata was among the people who fled Dikwa in 2014 and 2015. She managed to get her children to safety but lost her husband, who was killed during the violence.
“Later, aid organizations started providing medical services again. Today there are trained doctors and nurses again looking after patients. But if someone is very sick and the local clinic cannot help, there is currently no solution in Dikwa. The patients.” need to be taken to Maiduguri, but to get there you will need a military escort. Otherwise it is not safe. “
In recent years, international and local aid agencies have set up a network of clinics to provide basic health care to campers and the wider community. However, there is little in terms of specialized care and no surgical services.
Falmata works as a traditional obstetrician in Dikwa and wants her community to respect COVID-19 preventive measures. However, given the situation, this is a daily struggle.
“Some people respect the rules, some don’t. Some people deny that the virus is a threat, saying that we have more pressing problems: insecurity, no access to our farms, high prices, not enough food. The virus is not that. ” The only thing we have to worry about, “said Falmata.
She looked at the other women who sat in a semicircle next to her. They nodded in agreement.
You can tell people to wash their hands often, but they’ll need soap and water to do this. I remember once we piped water here in Dikwa and the government ran a large generator so we could all get clean water in our neighborhood. But then the attacks happened and much of that infrastructure was destroyed.
In a 2019 survey, three in four households in camps and two in five in the rest of the community said they did not have enough water to meet their basic needs. A year later, the situation hadn’t changed.
The insecurity in rural areas and the ongoing relocation to Dikwa have resulted in extreme population pressures. At the same time, government authorities have not been able to expand the area in which displaced persons can settle, as this would make it difficult to protect the population from further attacks.
In the fortress that Dikwa has become, more and more boreholes are being drilled deeper and deeper into the ground to find enough water for the growing population – the last one drilled by the ICRC reached a depth of 350 meters before reaching a viable aquifer hit carry clean groundwater.
Much of the destruction of previous health and water facilities in and around Dikwa has to do with a lack of respect for international humanitarian law and the civilian population, their property and the civil infrastructure that serves them.
This trend is neither new nor limited to northeastern Nigeria. The wars of the past decade – in Syria, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere – suggest that attacks on critical infrastructure have become more of a deliberate tactic than accidental damage.
Blown windows and walls littered with bullet holes easily remind us of the recent violence, but it is the destruction of the environment and essential infrastructure that is having the weakest impact on the resumption of normal life – broken water and sewer pipes, health damage clinics , searched schools, dilapidated electrical wiring, poisoned wells and – least visible but most destructive – the silent departure of all those people who knew how to build, operate and maintain these facilities.