Zulaihat Usman, 30-years-old. She fled her home, in Gwoza, due to insecurity. The Nigerian Red Cross Society has been assisting her to meet her immediate needs, mainly food.  Euloge Ishimwe/IFRC

By Euloge Ishimwe, IFRC

It is 3pm in Maiduguri in Nigeria’s north-east and the scorching afternoon heat is softened by a cool breeze. Despite another suicide bomb attack a day before which killed 11 people, there are no obvious signs of distress here, until you start talking to the residents. It’s then that the scars, struggles and strife of living in this crisis-ravaged region come to the surface.

Zulaihat Usman is a 30-year-old mother of four. She said that in 2015, members of an armed group in Borno state attacked her neighbourhood in Gwoza, about 135km from Maiduguri. “They held us hostage for over a month and we were not able to escape,” she said. “During that time, they killed a lot of people, I don’t recall the number. But many people were killed. It was here that they slaughtered my father and kidnapped my husband.”

It wasn’t the first such attack on the town. Gwoza has suffered a number of brutal and deadly raids during the eight-year conflict in northern Nigeria.

“I finally fled Gwoza because of the insurgency and came to Maiduguri with my children,” Usman said.

Some two million people have been uprooted by the violence in Nigeria. Like Zulaihat, most of them live in camps for displaced people and struggle daily to get by. She is also one of thousands of women in Borno whose husbands have either been killed or kidnapped.

In a society where men are traditionally the breadwinners, living without a husband means women such as Zulaihat now have to assume unfamiliar roles in very harsh circumstances.

Poverty, hunger, malnutrition and disease are soaring in this region, and the violent conflict has made reaching people with humanitarian assistance all the more difficult.

Zulaihat is worried that the small amount of aid getting through might soon dry up. “I have been receiving food from the Red Cross, but we hear that it may soon be difficult to continue receiving this assistance because the organizations here don’t have enough to assist everyone,” she said.

Her fears are not misplaced. Aid organizations in northern Nigeria have made significant progress in reaching desperate communities, but the resources are unable to keep pace with the scale of need.

“I am especially concerned that the vulnerability of communities here and throughout the northern region is likely to deepen in the coming months as food insecurity worsens during the June to August lean season,” said Elhadj As Sy, Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, during a visit to Maiduguri last week. “It is clear that despite the dedication and commitment of the many humanitarian organizations on the ground, much more support is needed.”

In addition to the violence and human rights abuses, the conflict has caused widespread destruction of hospitals, schools, roads, farms, homes, markets and people’s livelihoods.

As much Zulaihat and other women are eager to find safety and protection, they express equal concern about the future of their children – whether they will be able to finish school, find work, have clean water to drink and health services when they get sick. Basic things that would help them emerge from a life of poverty and vulnerability.

“My wish is that one day I will be empowered to fend for myself, without waiting for aid,” Zulaihat said. “I also hope that peace will return to Borno state soon and that my husband will be released, so that we can go back home to Gwoza.”