After almost eight years of terror by militant group Boko Haram, famine looms in northern Nigeria. The unprecedented humanitarian crisis might cause a mass migration to Europe, experts warn.
The terrorist group Boko Haram has caused an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in northern Nigeria that could lead to a "mass exodus" in direction Europe, Nigeria's chief humanitarian coordinator said.
"If we don't deal with it now, my great fear is that tens of thousands will leave for Europe," Ayoade Alakija told dpa. "The migration routes are already there. It's very simple math, really," she explained.
Alakija's concerns are echoed by a new study by the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), which shows a direct link between high levels of food insecurity and increasing migration.
Each one percentage increase in food insecurity compels 1.9 percent more people to migrate, WFP found. With every additional year, a further 0.4 per cent of the population migrates, according to the study.
In the three states most affected by Boko Haram's terror - Borno, Yobe and Adamawa - almost seven million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to United Nations humanitarian affairs office, OCHA. More than half of them are children.
More than five million people face acute food insecurity, said OCHA, while almost half a million children will suffer from severe acute malnutrition over the next twelve months if they don't receive help.
They are not only in need of food but also water, sanitation, protection, education, shelter and health services.
Alakija believes the official UN statistics only reflect those in urgent need, noting that Nigeria's national statistics indicate an even more severe situation.
About 26 million people are affected by displacement and food insecurity, according to the national humanitarian coordination office. At least 14 million of them are in need of assistance, while 8.5 million are in desperate need of assistance.
"It doesn't get much worse than that," said Alakija. "The next step is a declaration of famine, which we are trying to avoid at all cost."
Nigeria's military made some important gains in the fight against Boko Haram. The terrorists lost control over many areas in the north-east. Earlier this month, they released 82 of the more than 200 school girls abducted more than three years ago from their school in the town of Chibok.
But almost eight years of insurgency have turned the region into a "chronically underdeveloped" area, according to the U.N.
Farmers have missed several planting seasons due to the ongoing threat of terrorism, in areas largely dependent on an agrarian economy. Villages have been destroyed, livestock stolen, fields and crops looted and torched.
"Access to jobs and food has been practically cut off in north-eastern Nigeria," said Alakija. Getting aid to the region is a complex and difficult task because the security situation remains volatile in many parts of the north-east, with aid agencies unable to access those in need, explained William Assanvo, researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Dakar.
More than 80 per cent of Borno State - where Boko Haram has most of its hideouts - remain at high to very high risk for humanitarian agencies, according to the UN. With the rainy season having started this month, further areas have become inaccessible.
In addition, President Muhammadu Buhari's ill health has slowed down the responsiveness of Africa's most populous nation of 180 million people.
After a seven-week medical leave in Britain in the beginning of the year, the 74-year-old in May again returned to London for medical consultations. Donor funding has trickled in only slowly.
OCHA said it so far received 67 per cent of the eight million dollars required to address the emergency effectively.
Other humanitarian crises around the globe, such as in Syria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen, have dried up the availability of funds. "There have also been several allegations of aid being mismanaged by national authorities in Nigeria," said Assanvo.
Government officials in the north-east have been accused of stealing and selling aid provisions and of having sex with women in exchange for food. Ending the crisis would need more than the provision of food and other humanitarian services, argued Alakija. "We need to provide hope by looking at the root causes," she stressed. "Otherwise we leave them with little choice but to leave."
Since 2009, at least 20,000 people have died at the hands of the Sunni fundamentalists in Nigeria as well as in neighboring Chad, Cameroon and Niger. According to the United Nations, an estimated 2.6 million people in the region have fled their homes due to Boko Haram.
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