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article imageUN warning over school closures in NE Nigeria

By Phil HAZLEWOOD (AFP)     Sep 29, 2017 in World

Most schools in the state worst-hit by the Boko Haram conflict remain shut, the UN children's agency said on Friday, blaming the jihadists for deliberating targeting education.

Unicef said at least 57 percent of schools in Borno state were closed as the new academic year began this month, with teacher numbers as well as buildings badly hit by the violence.

More than 2,295 teachers have been killed and 19,000 displaced, while nearly 1,400 schools have been destroyed in eight years of fighting, it added in a statement.

Schools were shut because they were too badly damaged or were located in areas still deemed unsafe despite a sustained military fight-back against the Islamist militants since 2015.

Unicef warned the situation threatened to create "a lost generation of children, threatening their and the country's future" if nothing was done.

The agency's deputy executive director Justin Forsyth said on a visit to the northeast that the effect of the insurgency on education was "no accident".

"This was a deliberate strategy (by Boko Haram) to destroy opportunity for children to go to school," he told AFP in a telephone interview from the Borno state capital, Maiduguri.

- Schools targeted -

Boko Haram's name roughly translates from the Hausa language spoken widely across northern Nigerian to "Western education is sin".

Its fighters have repeatedly targeted schools teaching a secular curriculum.

In March last year, the Borno state government said 5,335 classrooms and school buildings in 512 primary, 38 secondary and two tertiary institutions had been damaged or destroyed.

Boko Haram's kidnapping of more than 200 girls from their school in the Borno town of Chibok in April 2014 brought global attention to the conflict.

Forsyth said some three million children needed emergency education support but there was a huge shortfall to fund Unicef's programmes in the region, he added.

Some 750,000 children have been enrolled in school this year in Borno and neighbouring Yobe and Adamawa, which have also been badly hit by the fighting.

For some, such as those in camps for those made homeless by the conflict, it is the first time they have received formal teaching.

Overall, at least 20,000 people have been killed in the fighting and more than 2.6 million made homeless.

Nigeria's military and government claim the Islamic State group affiliate is a spent force but attacks, including suicide bombings, remain a constant threat.

- Malnutrition levels -

Unicef has repeatedly highlighted the effect of the insurgency on children and called the rebels' use of boys and particularly girls as human bombs an "atrocity".

As of late last month, 83 children had been strapped with explosives and used to carry out bomb attacks -- four times as many as in all of last year.

The agency has also warned about acute food shortages that have left hundreds of thousands of people on the brink of famine in northeast Nigeria.

The UN's head of humanitarian affairs and emergency relief, Mark Lowcock, said this month that the threat of famine had been "averted".

Unicef said the intervention of aid agencies was making a difference but some 450,000 children under five were still expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition this year.

Forsyth said there were currently some 2,800 cases of severe acute malnutrition at the camp in the border town of Banki and high numbers also in Maiduguri.

"It's not out of control but the levels are very high," he said, attributing the rise in cases in part to greater accessibility to areas previously cut off by the fighting.

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