Fighting Famine: Hours from death, the babies battling starvation in Nigeria

  • Warning: This article contains distressing images

In a week of special coverage, ITV News is taking a closer look at how widespread starvation is threatening countries in parts of the Middle East and Africa.

For the final part of the series, ITV News correspondent Ronke Phillips travelled to Nigeria where she met families looking after children who are dying as a result of the food crisis.

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Five-month-old Muhammed Tahir is quite literally "skin and bones".

Desperately small for his age, the baby boy is also battling pneumonia, suspected tuberculosis, ulcers on his scalp and his recovery is further complicated because he has cerebral palsy.

His mother Ayshia has not left his bedside since she brought him to the University of Maiduguri Teaching hospital four days ago.

She watches her son clench his fists at the discomfort of every breath he takes. When he coughs his eyes widen with pain, but he doesn't cry. He is too weak to shed tears.

In the end the multitude of complaints proved too much for Mohammed's tiny body. Malnutrition had destroyed his immune system. He died an hour after we filmed him.

The population of Maiduguri, the capital of the Borno State, has continued to grow at an alarming rate since I was last here three years ago.

The region is the birthplace and strong-hold of the militant group Boko Haram who also control hundreds of villages in the surrounding area. As they tighten their grip, the residents flee to the city which is now at bursting point and can no longer feed its people.

Ten months ago an unofficial camp sprang up on the outskirts of Maiduguri. Muna Garage. It already serves 41,000 people and every day more arrive.

It was the famine-like conditions which forced Falmata Ali to flee her village with her malnourished children. Her daughter Iza is now so painfully thin her health is considered in danger.

Falmata told me: "I put my daughter on my back and with my three year old son we walked for two days. The children were crying. There was no food."

Two-year-old Hadiza has been left bloated by a build up of fluid because she is not getting enough to eat - and the little she does is not giving her the right nutrients.

More than two million people have been displaced since the insurgency began Credit: ITV News

When she arrives at the Muna Garage screening clinic, her health is in such danger she is immediately taken by ambulance to hospital.

For those who have so little, water is also scarce as 75% of the region's infrastructure has been destroyed in the conflict. The meagre supplies from bore holes have to be shared by everyone, including animals and used for washing clothes.

Those who cannot make it to the camps take their starving children to clinics dedicated to treating youngsters with severe malnutrition.

Abdul Ramat was recently released from a stabilisation centre, but a lack of food and water has again led his weight to drop and his health to decline.

His mother told me how she fled her village under the cover of darkness after the militants killed her husband.

They were already hungry but the seven days it took to walk to Maiduguri with little food and water left her weak and her son the brink of death.

Unicef's regional director Geoffrey Jumba says the need of the people is not just immediate, it is desperate.

More than two million people have been displaced since the insurgency began.

The military is starting to reclaim territory from the militants but the insurgency has taken a brutal toll, the people and especially the children face a new and just as deadly enemy - starvation.