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In Borno State Nigeria, people need a fighting chance

As the Olympic Games played out in all their grandeur and glory, a bloody ground war was being waged in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger

Mohamed Bali

Published: Updated:

At this year’s Olympic Games, the Nigerian men’s football team won a bronze medal. It wasn’t easy; their achievement was hard-won both on and off the pitch. In the words of team coach Samson Siasia, “We struggled to get here. But there is a oneness, a team spirit and a willingness to overcome.” The team, and their many supporters held onto the hope of an Olympic medal, and it paid off.

That hope is all anyone can ask for. With so many economic disparities at play in the world of sport, and with seemingly endless scandals, we need heroes like these. They had a fighting chance for success, and they took it.

However, as the Olympic Games played out in all their grandeur and glory, a bloody ground war was being waged in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Having displaced more than 2.7 million people, this war continues.

In Borno State, Nigeria, 500,000 people, forced from their homes, are in desperate need of hu-manitarian assistance. They need food, water, shelter and emergency medical care. Up to 15% of children screened in local communities have been diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition. In an effort to get the medical treatment they need, people are moving en-masse. The effect of this has been to overwhelm the city hospitals. So many people on the move, in unstable and un-safe environments, heightens the risk of infectious diseases spreading. There is already a mea-sles epidemic that our organization, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is working to contain.

When we respond, to disasters like this, we respond with medical aid, devoid of politics. For us the sides of a conflict are not a determining factor in whether or not we act, nor are the race, re-ligion or beliefs of those we treat. For us, as a medical humanitarian organization, the determin-ing factor is need, and in this situation, the needs are abundant.

MSF has teams in place to address the urgent medical needs and malnutrition, but if we are to make a real difference, there needs to be a significant scale-up in aid operations

Mohamed Bali

Yearning for normal life

Right now these people do not have the chance to lead normal lives. They have little choice but to head to refugee camps, to cities, to anywhere there may be supplies and a reprieve from vio-lence. We hear many stories like this in the press every day. Perhaps we have even become inured to distant suffering. I hope not, but I certainly believe we must change the way we see those in need. We must not accept suffering and indignity as a status quo, lamenting its exist-ence but believing it to be perpetual.

When we give, when we contribute, when we act, we must know that the people we are acting for only need the means to act for themselves, to be given an option other than fleeing or suffer-ing. Right now that means giving people in Borno State basic supplies and health care. MSF has teams in place to address the urgent medical needs and malnutrition, but if we are to make a real difference, there needs to be a significant scale-up in aid operations.

The 500,000 people I refer to are not nameless victims, each of them has their own aspirations, dreams for the future, loved ones. It may be that among that 500,000 are future Olympians, fu-ture heroes, future examples for our children to follow.

Can we save everyone? Probably not, but we can do a lot, we can alleviate suffering and give people that fighting chance they deserve. If the aid community responds, and responds now, a lot can be done. For that to happen, people like you must believe it can.
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Mohamed Bali is the Executive Director in UAE for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). He has more than 13 years’ experience in humanitarian aids and development fields. In MSF, he is re-sponsible for leading MSF-UAE in accomplishing its social mission of significantly participating in, and contributing to, the effective provision of medical humanitarian assistance to people af-fected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural or man-made disasters, or exclusion from health care.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.