Thousands of children have died of starvation and disease in Boko Haram-ravaged northeastern Nigeria, Doctors Without Borders said Tuesday, quoting a new survey that's forcing Nigerian officials to stop denying the crisis. The Paris-based group hopes official recognition of the calamity in which "thousands are dying" will help bring urgent aid before older children also start dying, Natalie Roberts, emergency program manager for northeast Nigeria, tells the AP. A survey of two refugee camps in the city of Maiduguri shows a quarter of the expected population of children under 5 is missing, assumed dead, per MSF, the group's acronym in French. Under-5 mortality rates in the camps are more than double the threshold for declaring an emergency, Roberts notes. Speaking on her return from northeastern Borno state, the birthplace of Boko Haram's uprising, she says the absence of young children was striking.
"We only saw older brothers and sisters," she says. "It's as if [the younger kids] have just vanished." MSF first sounded the alarm in June, but senior officials of the National Emergency Management Agency managing the camps as late as September denied any child was suffering malnutrition and accused doctors of exaggerating the crisis to attract donations. The crisis is aggravated by alleged theft of food aid by emergency management officials. An estimated 75,000 children could die within a year because donors have provided only one-third of requested funding; twice as much—$1 billion—is needed for the rest of the year and into 2017, says the UN. A vital funding conference in Geneva next month could save the day. Otherwise, "it won't be long before we could be in the painful position of having to turn away sick and starving children," says the US-based Save the Children. (Read more Nigeria stories.)