Geneva, Switzerland, Aug 19 – The number of people in northeast Nigeria who need food aid could nearly double within a month, as the Boko Haram insurgency and economic pressures intensify suffering, the UN said Friday.
A crisis fuelled by years of radical Islamist violence has left more than three million people in the northeast “in a state of moderate or severe food insecurity,” said Bettina Luescher, spokeswoman for the UN’s World Food Programme.
But tough economic conditions in Nigeria — caused by low oil prices and surging inflation — could see that number rise to 5.5 million “next month”, Luescher told reporters in Geneva.
“We are so concerned about where this crisis is going,” she said.
Nigeria’s economy remains overwhelmingly reliant on oil production and the collapse in crude prices has reverberated across the country.
The naira currency fell to a record low this week, approaching 350 against the dollar.
The naira has lost nearly 40 percent of its value since June 20, when the government abandoned efforts to keep it around 200 against the dollar.
In northeastern Borno state, the epicentre of the Boko Haram insurgency, “prices have gone up 50 to 100 percent,” Luescher said.
The United Nations and other humanitarian agencies have increasingly sounded the alarm over the extent of the crisis facing civilians in the northeast.
When Boko Haram violence was at its peak through 2013 and 2014, humanitarian workers had almost no access to the hardest-hit areas, making it difficult to assess the extent of the needs.
With the Nigerian military making gains against the extremists in recent months, access and information have improved.
The WFP is ramping up its operations in the region, giving cash to civilians who can buy food at markets and food aid to those with no access to marketplaces, Luescher said.
UN refugee agency spokesman Adrian Edwards called the situation “catastrophic”.
Boko Haram has been blamed for some 20,000 deaths and displacing more than 2.6 million people since 2009.