KANO, Nigeria: The United Nations has made the first food aid delivery to thousands of people displaced by Boko Haram Islamists in the Nigerian town of Banki, where hundreds have starved to death since March, the UN said on Friday.
Officials from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) delivered 30 tonnes of “various lifesaving food items” transported from neighboring Cameroon, the OCHA said in a statement.
The convoy reached Banki on Thursday and distributed food to the more than 25,000 people in the town, it said. “An additional 700 kilograms of supplementary food for malnourished children was airlifted from the state capital Maiduguri to Banki on the same day.”
It was the first aid delivery to the thousands of internally displaced in the northeast region in the last four months following deadly Boko Haram raids.
They have been without food and basic supplies and relied on paltry food handouts from soldiers who have been sharing their rations.
Last month a soldier and a vigilante assisting the military in fighting Boko Haram told Agence France-Presse at least 10 people were dying from hunger every day, highlighting warnings about a food crisis in the Sahel region.
The vigilante said the cemetery in Banki, some 130 kilometers (80 miles) southeast of the Borno state capital Maiduguri, was dotted with 376 graves of displaced people who died of starvation.
The soldier said people had been reduced to “walking corpses” facing imminent death without food aid.
When Boko Haram intensified attacks on villages in the area, residents fled to Banki where a military detachment has been based since they retook it in September.
Millions in need of food
The United Nations said in May that 9.2 million people living around Lake Chad, which forms the border of Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger, were in desperate need of food.
According to the OCHA aid distribution in Banki and other areas recently liberated by the Nigerian military was “scaling up” but more funds were needed to meet the “lifesaving needs” of people affected by Boko Haram violence in northeast Nigeria.
Only 28 percent of the $279 million required by the UN to help those affected by the violence has been realized, leaving a $200 million shortfall.
The Borno state government and aid agencies have warned about acute food shortages in the Lake Chad region as a result of seven years of violence.
Boko Haram’s insurgency has left at least 20,000 dead in Nigeria and devastated infrastructure in the impoverished northeast. The unrest has also displaced more than 2.6 million.
Nigeria’s government has been encouraging people to return home since the recapture of swathes of territory lost to the Islamist militants in 2014 but most are still largely reliant on food handouts.
There have been concerns about high death rates from severe acute malnutrition in camps for the internally displaced, while it is feared some inaccessible areas could be suffering from famine.
A UN official compared the situation with the crisis in Darfur and South Sudan. AFP