Monday, 10 June 2024 04:35

Editorial: Addressing the malnutrition crisis amidst growing revenues for the three tiers of government

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As governments at the three tiers continue to share more revenues from FAAC allocations, a dire crisis unfolds in the northern part of the country. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has reported a dramatic rise in the number of severely malnourished children, with admissions at their facilities doubling in some areas compared to last year. This alarming situation calls into question the allocation and utilisation of Nigeria's financial resources, especially given the backdrop of opulent living among government officials and widespread corruption.

The Grim Reality of Malnutrition in Northern Nigeria

In Northern Nigeria, the severity of child malnutrition has reached unprecedented levels. MSF's in-patient facilities are overwhelmed, with children lying on mattresses on the floor due to lack of space. In Borno State alone, the number of severely malnourished children admitted to MSF's therapeutic feeding center in Maiduguri doubled in April 2024 compared to April 2023. Similar alarming increases have been reported across other northern states, including Bauchi, Zamfara, Kano, and Sokoto.

This crisis is not new. MSF and other humanitarian organisations have been sounding the alarm for years. Despite these warnings, the response has remained inadequate, leading to a worsening situation. The urgent appeal for $306.4 million to address nutritional needs in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe states highlights the scale of the crisis, yet this amount is still insufficient to meet the broader needs of the region.

Increasing Revenues: A Double-Edged Sword

Contrasting this humanitarian disaster is the significant increase in government revenues. In 2023, the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) reported that the three tiers of government shared N10.14 trillion from the federation account, a 23.56% increase from the previous year. This uptick is attributed to improved revenue remittances, the removal of petrol subsidies, and the floating of the exchange rate.

While these increased revenues should be a boon for public welfare, their benefits are not being felt by those who need them most. Instead, reports of opulent living among government officials and pervasive corruption paint a stark picture of inequality and mismanagement. The disconnection between rising government revenues and the persistence of severe malnutrition among children underscores systemic issues in governance and resource allocation.

Corruption and Misallocation of Funds

Corruption remains a significant barrier to addressing the malnutrition crisis effectively. Funds meant for public welfare are often siphoned off for personal gain, leaving essential services underfunded. The lavish lifestyles of some government officials starkly contrast with the abject poverty and suffering experienced by many Nigerians, particularly in the North. This misallocation not only exacerbates the malnutrition crisis but also erodes public trust in government institutions.

The Need for Urgent and Sustained Action

Addressing the malnutrition crisis requires more than just emergency responses; it demands long-term, systemic changes in governance and resource allocation. Here are key steps that must be taken:

1. Enhanced Accountability and Transparency: There must be stringent measures to ensure that funds allocated for public welfare, particularly for combating malnutrition, are used effectively. Transparency in financial management and robust anti-corruption mechanisms are crucial.

2. Prioritizing Health and Nutrition: Increased revenues should translate into higher investments in health and nutrition programmes, especially in vulnerable regions. This includes scaling up therapeutic feeding programmes, ensuring timely provision of supplementary food, and strengthening healthcare infrastructure.

3. Integrated Development Approach: Tackling malnutrition requires addressing its root causes, including poverty, food insecurity, and lack of access to clean water and sanitation. An integrated approach that combines immediate relief with long-term development initiatives is essential.

4. Community Engagement and Education: Local communities must be involved in planning and implementing nutrition programmes. Educational campaigns can also help in promoting better nutritional practices and hygiene.

5. International Support and Collaboration: Given the scale of the crisis, international organisations and donors must continue to provide support. Collaborative efforts can enhance the effectiveness of interventions and ensure a comprehensive response.

Conclusion

The increasing revenues in Nigeria present an opportunity to make significant strides in public welfare. However, this potential will only be realised if there is a genuine commitment to addressing corruption, improving transparency, and prioritising the needs of the most vulnerable populations. The malnutrition crisis in Northern Nigeria is a stark reminder of the urgent need for systemic change. Government officials must demonstrate accountability and responsibility, ensuring that every child has the opportunity to grow up healthy and free from the devastating effects of malnutrition.

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