Having fled Boko Haram and sought refuge in an aid camp in northeastern Nigeria, Babakura Wakin watched some 30 people die, including his younger sister, as scarce food supplies ran out.
But it was the fate of an elderly man, Baba Madu, who cried with hunger day after day before dying of starvation, that has stayed with the 25-year-old, a month after he left the camp.
“He lost a lot of weight – it was hunger that killed people like him, not illness,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
More than 1,200 people have died from starvation and illness in the camp on a hospital compound in Bama, the second biggest city in Borno state, said Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).
The medical charity last week gained access to the camp hosting 24,000 people, including 15,000 children, for the first time since it was seized back from Boko Haram in March 2015.
Almost 200 people have died in the last month, mainly from diarrhoea and malnutrition, according to MSF, who said “a catastrophic humanitarian emergency” was unfolding in Bama.
The U.N. World Food Programme is providing nutrient-rich food for 3,500 children under two in the camp, while the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF is providing water and treating people for malaria, respiratory infections, diarrhoea and malnutrition.
Wakin spent six months in the camp because there was not enough space for him in his wife’s family home in Maiduguri – the couple having moved there from Bama in September 2014 with their three children to escape violence by Boko Haram militants.
When Wakin arrived at the camp in November last year, people were only given one bowl of raw rice to cook every five days.
But this dwindled until no food was provided for a month, forcing Wakin to leave the camp and return to Maiduguri, where he now lives in a small one-room apartment with his family.
“If you compare my size now to what I was when I first went to the camp, you won’t believe how much weight I’ve lost,” Wakin said by telephone from Maiduguri, where his wife makes and sells traditional caps, which allows the family to pay their rent.
“Whenever she sells a cap, we eat,” Wakin added.
Boko Haram has killed more than 15,000 people and displaced 2 million in Nigeria and neighbouring Cameroon, Chad, and Niger during a seven-year campaign to carve out an Islamist caliphate.
Nigeria’s army, aided by its neighbours, has recaptured most of the territory seized by Boko Haram, but the group still regularly stages guerrilla attacks and suicide bombings.