Aid agencies today warned that lives are at risk unless there is a substantial increase in funds to help over seven million people facing hunger in Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon.
The warning from Oxfam and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) comes as the UN, governments and donors meet in Oslo, Norway to pledge funds to tackle the crisis that wracks an area known as the Lake Chad Basin. The UN has appealed for $1.5 billion to meet the emergency needs in 2017. Last year’s appeal was only 52 per cent funded.
According to Pauline Ballaman, who happens to be Oxfam’s head of operations in the Lake Chad Basin area, said: “The risk of famine is real in parts of northern Nigeria. Millions of people have been pushed to the brink after years of conflict. Unable to grow or buy food, or get the help they desperately need, many have died.
"Aid has managed to make some people's lives better - but without urgent funding and access to areas where people are cut off from aid, we could see levels of hunger and malnutrition deteriorate further and many more lives lost."
Oxfam also reported that over the last four years the conflict with Boko Haram has intensified and spread from North East Nigeria across the border into Niger, Chad and Cameroon. Over 2.6 million people – of which 1.5 million are children – have fled their homes in search of safety and nearly 11 million people are in need of emergency aid. In Borno State in northeast Nigeria, at least 400,000 people could be living in famine-like conditions.
Nigerian government forces have recaptured territory from Boko Haram and previously cut off areas are now more accessible revealing huge levels of suffering. But the security situation remains fragile and violence continues to make it difficult for Oxfam and other agencies to get help to all the people who need it. Some areas remain completely inaccessible to humanitarian organizations because of ongoing military operations or because they are still under the control of Boko Haram
Meanwhile the government has announced it intends to close all camps hosting displaced people by May 2017. Many of them are already returning to areas still surrounded by fighting. Some find their home villages are still too dangerous, leaving them to seek shelter in nearby towns where there is often widespread destruction and few services or assistance available.
Cheick Ba, Country Director for NRC Nigeria, said: “We are seeing convoys of displaced people being moved back into towns the government recently reclaimed, even as fresh violence in the surrounding areas forces more people to flee. People tell us they want to go home, but only when it’s safe. We need to hear real commitment from the authorities that no one will be encouraged to go home until there is lasting security and basic services have been restored.”
People continue to experience horrific levels of human rights abuses and threats including sexual violence, abductions, killings, torture, forced recruitment, forced disappearance and arbitrary detention. In North East Nigeria, nearly one in three women report having experienced sexual violence.
Military and political objectives in the fight against Boko Haram have trumped humanitarian concerns. Collectively, governments, humanitarian organizations, and donors were slow to respond to this crisis. A large humanitarian operation is now underway and many lives have been saved. But without a massive injection of aid many lives could be lost.