NEARLY half a million children around Lake Chad face “severe acute malnutrition,” due to drought and a seven-year insurgency by Islamist militant group, Boko Haram, in North-Eastern Nigeria, United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) said on Thursday, Reuters reports.
Of the 475,000 deemed at risk, 49,000 in Borno State will die this year if they do not receive treatment, according to the United Nations’ agency, which is appealing for $308 million to cope with the crisis.
However, to date, UNICEF said it had only received $41 million, 13 per cent of what it needed to help those affected in the four countries – Chad, Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon – that border Lake Chad.
At the start of 2015, Boko Haram occupied an area the size of Belgium, but had since been pushed back over the last 18 months by military assaults by the four countries.
Most of its remaining forces are now hiding in the wilds of the vast Sambisa forest, south-east of the Borno provincial capital, Maiduguri.
UNICEF said as Nigerian government forces captured and secured territory, aid officials were starting to piece together the scale of the humanitarian disaster left behind in the group’s wake.
“Towns and villages are in ruins and communities have no access to basic services,” UNICEF said in a report.
In Borno, nearly two thirds of hospitals and clinics had been partially or completely destroyed and three-quarters of water and sanitation facilities needed to be rehabilitated.
According to Reuters, despite the military gains, UNICEF said 2.2 million people remain trapped in areas under the control of Boko Haram, which was trying to establish a caliphate in the southern reaches of the Sahara or were staying in camps, fearful of going home.
In north-eastern Nigeria alone, an estimated 20,000 children had been separated from their families, the agency said, adding that about 38 children had been used to carry out suicide attacks in the Lake Chad basin so far this year, bringing the number of children used as suicide bombers since 2014 to 86.
“A major humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Africa’s Lake Chad Basin, where the spiral of violence has left 1.4 million children trapped behind conflict lines,” UNICEF said in a blogpost on Medium, the link which was shared on the agency’s Twitter timeline on Thursday.
The agency, which catalogued stories of some children whose lives had been impacted by Boko Haram attacks in the blog post, said “children between seven and 15 years, risking it all, had to cross forests, deserts and swamps with or without shoes,” in an attempt to escape Boko Haram-related violence in the countries.
UNICEF, quoting Tahar Mohamed, eight-year-old Chadian returnee from Niger, as saying: “We are nomads. We were not in the camp when it was attacked by Boko Haram. I was out riding a camel with my father and saw people running away. He told me to start screaming if I saw any danger. The first night I slept on a tree. I was too scared.”