MAIDUGURI, JANUARY 22, 2017 – L ying in a bed in the surgical ward of a hospital in northeast Nigeria, his torso barely visible under heavy bandaging, a 10-year-old boy stares blankly at the ceiling as nurses rush past.
Badly burned all over his upper body, and stable only after intensive surgery, the Nigerian child is one of more than 100 people wounded this week when a botched military air strike hit a refugee camp in Rann in Borno state.
“It’s heartbreaking to see so many child victims,” said Beat Mosimann, head of sub-delegation at the International Red Cross (ICRC), as surgeons prepared to perform yet another operation at the State Specialist Hospital in Borno’s capital of Maiduguri.
“The adults at least understand what is happening, but the children have no idea,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Saturday in a ward full of patients wrapped in bandages, gauze and casts.
“They are hurt, scared and far away from their families.”
The air strike on Tuesday on the camp in Borno, the heart of Boko Haram’s seven-year-long bid to create an Islamic caliphate, was aimed at the jihadists, according to the Nigerian Air Force, which has not provided an official casualty figure.
Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said on Friday at least 90 people were killed by the bombing, including nine aid workers, but warned that the death toll could hit 170.
Surgeons in four Maiduguri hospitals are working around the clock, operating on the most seriously wounded including more than 20 children, to keep the death toll down, the ICRC said
“This one of the hardest times for the State Specialist Hospital – we are overstretched with so many wounded,” said Apollo Barasa, project manager at the public hospital.
More than 100 people have been airlifted to Maiduguri from Rann since Wednesday, arriving with injuries ranging from broken bones and burns to shrapnel wounds and abdominal injuries.
Most of the 68 wounded taken to the State Specialist Hospital – half of whom are children – have already had surgery, with patients sleeping, having their dressings changed and chatting to relatives as nurses did their rounds.
While many of the children are alone because their families are unable to travel to Maiduguri, several Nigerian Red Cross volunteers are on hand to comfort and care for them.
One of the recovering victims, Ahmad Barma, said he was working in the Rann camp for the ICRC when the bomb struck.
“I lay there on the ground for 15 minutes, looking around at the injured and the dead, seeing people run in every direction,” said the aid volunteer, gingerly feeling his fractured left leg.
Six Nigerian Red Cross aid workers and three from a Cameroon firm hired by MSF to provide water and sanitation died in the attack, while more than a dozen humanitarians were injured.
“I am more than lucky, when so many people are dead,” Barma said. “I want to go back to the field. If I could tomorrow, I would,” he said, his older brother chuckling at his bedside.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said this week the air force should have known the area targeted was full of civilians, and called upon the government to compensate the victims and their families.
The air force declined to comment on HRW’s statement and said on Thursday it would investigate the air strike, which followed a military offensive against Boko Haram in the last fedw weeks.
The militants’ insurgency has killed more than 15,000 people and forced some two million to flee their homes.
The group has been pushed out from most of the territory it held in 2015 by the Nigerian military, with help from neighbouring countries.