More than nine million people in the Lake Chad region are in desperate need of food aid as the violent insurgency being waged there by Boko Haram rages, the UN said on Monday.
Half of the region’s residents are facing “chronic food insecurity” and malnutrition as the violence around Lake Chad “continues to deteriorate”, the UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a statement.
“[Fighting] has catastrophically worsened their vulnerability,” said the statement, which blamed Boko Haram’s violent campaign to carve out a hardline Islamic state in northeast Nigeria and beyond for triggering “the largest crisis of displaced people in Africa”.
Over 2.4 million people have been forced from their homes due to the violence in the region that has claimed more than 20 000 lives, according to the UN.
Since 2015, the four countries that share Lake Chad – Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger – have significantly weakened Boko Haram but have been unable to vanquish the Islamists entirely.
UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs Stephen O’Brien began a four-day tour of the region on Monday to raise awareness of the crisis.
On Tuesday he will visit Diffa in southeast Niger which is home to 200 000 refugees and people internally displaced by the violence before travelling to Maiduguri in northeast Nigeria, a city that has been on the frontline of the battle against Boko Haram.
Lake Chad itself has several islands which have been evacuated at the request of the Chadian army to help it fight against insurgents.
The area around the lake has thick vegetation which has helped jihadists to move undetected.
On Friday the UN Security Council expressed “alarm” at growing ties between Boko Haram and the Islamic State group.