Aishatu Mohammed is anxious. After fleeing violent conflict, she has spent the last month sharing a makeshift shelter with dozens of strangers in a transit camp for internally displaced people (IDP) in Pulka, a small town in northeast Nigeria. The shelter where Aishatu lives is a rectangular structure held together with pieces of tarpaulin nailed onto a rotten, wooden frame. Pots with burnt out bottoms, jerry cans and containers of different shapes and sizes are strewn across the room. During the day, sleeping mats and quilts are rolled up and used as backrests to provide a little comfort for the people living here.
The residents of overcrowded shelters in Pulka are mostly women and children. There are also some elderly people and middle-aged men. In Aishatu’s tent, everyone lives tightly packed together. Aishatu cannot even stretch out her legs without coming into contact with someone else.
A few days ago, a storm tore through a portion of the tarpaulin in the roof, drenching everyone inside. It has not yet been repaired.
Today it is hot and people’s faces are dripping with sweat.“I don’t have my own shelter. When it rains, the water falls on me and I get soaked. There is no place to take cover or hide from the rain,” says Aishatu.
Bintu Ibrahim is a pregnant woman who came to Pulka twenty days ago: “When the rain comes, we can’t even find a dry place to cook. We are all suffering, especially pregnant women like me, who should not be exposed to the cold and wet.”
Aishatu and Bintu are completely dependent of humanitarian assistance. They are not alone; there are around 5,000 people living in precarious conditions in 38 shared shelters in the transit camp in Pulka. This is supposed to be a temporary solution for IDPs, before they are allocated individual shelters elsewhere. But some displaced families have been living here for as long as one year.
“These shelters are only supposed to house people in transit. Some communal shelters host as many as 150 or 200 people. Several are broken and need repairing, but there is no system of maintenance in the camp,” says Martin Okonji, MSF field coordinator in Pulka town.
Despite frequent food distributions, IDPs say the amount of food they receive is not enough to feed everyone in a family. Over the past few months, residents of the camp have also faced severe water shortages. The long queues of people waiting to fill their containers at water points have now reduced with the arrival of the wet season, but the rains bring new challenges.
With the onset of rains, there is a greater chance of outbreaks like cholera and other water-borne diseases. “There are huge health risks because people are living in such poor sanitary conditions. Toilets are flooded and the overflowing waste poses an additional health hazard to the residents,” says Okonji.
“The town has experienced a constant influx of new arrivals over the past few years, but basic services have not increased accordingly. Humanitarian organisations must ensure safe living conditions for internally displaced people in Pulka,” adds MSF’s field coordinator.
MSF has been running a hospital in Pulka since the end of 2016. It provides primary and secondary healthcare, maternal care, mental health services and nutritional support for malnourished children. Between January and March 2018, MSF conducted nearly 13,000 outpatient consultations and treated more than 1,550 malnourished children. In northeast Nigeria, MSF works in 11 locations across Borno and Yobe states.