A food emergency in the Lake Chad region and Nigeria has left 11 million people in desperate need of humanitarian aid and more than 500,000 children facing severe to acute malnutrition, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for the Sahel has warned.
Speaking to journalists at the UN headquarters in New York, Toby Lanzer said violence and mass migration have caused a humanitarian emergency that needs urgent attention.
“We are now faced with 11 million people in desperate need of humanitarian aid, 7.1 million are severely food insecure. Severely food insecure, if you want, is a technical term that we get from the World Food Programme and from the Food and Agriculture Organization. What it really means is that people are living on the edge. They are surviving on, if they can, one meal a day,” he said.
Islamist group Boko Haram has waged an insurgency since 2009, displacing 2.1 million people and killing thousands across Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria in a bid to create an Islamist caliphate.
A joint regional force has pushed the Islamist group back but the militants still stage suicide bombings.
Insecurity makes it hard for aid agencies to reach the most vulnerable. Some say parts of Northern Nigeria are already experiencing famine and have warned that children are at the highest risk.
“At the moment, with 515,000 children across the Lake Chad region who we know are either or are about to be severely and acutely malnourished. If they don’t get the help they need on time, they die,” said Lanzer.
Turning to The Gambia’s now waning political crisis, Lanzer said a humanitarian situation has likely been averted as thousands start to return home after ex-ruler Yahya Jammeh went into exile after 22 years in power.
Jammeh, who refused to accept defeat to opposition challenger Adama Barrow in a December election, flew out of Banjul late on Saturday, en route to Equatorial Guinea as the regional force was poised to remove him.
“In the space of one week, last week, we had 45,000 people who fled from The Gambia into Senegal; an additional 7,000 people who fled from The Gambia into Guinea-Bissau. Now, not a very large number, but actually in proportion to the population of Gambia it was an enormous movement of people. They are now well on their way back to The Gambia,” Lanzer said.
The UN official also raised concerns about Mali where 500,000 people – 20 percent more than last year – will not have enough to eat as insecurity persists in the north.
A suicide bomb attack on a military camp killed up to 60 people and wounded more than 100 others.
Al Qaeda’s North African affiliate claimed responsibility for the attack, which struck at the heart of still-fragile efforts by the government and rival armed groups to work together to quell violence that has plagued the restive desert north for years.