Over the past few years, conflicts in Syria, South Sudan, and Afghanistan have created the largest international refugee crisis since World War II. Now, according to a top government official, another massive migrant crisis is looming in a far more populous country: Nigeria.
Almost five million people are at risk of starvation in the West African nation amid a years-long Islamist insurgency. But insufficient funding means that emergency food aid to the vulnerable northeast may be cut just as the lean season approaches, endangering millions.
“The world could see a mass exodus from a country of 180 million people if support is not given, and fast,” said Ayoade Alakija, Nigeria’s chief humanitarian coordinator, in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Since 2009, Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group based in the country’s northeast state of Borno, has waged a campaign in the region to establish an Islamic state. The insurgency has disrupted farming and displaced more than two million residents in the northeast.
In February, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the U.N would need $4.4 billion by the end of March to avert famine in Nigeria, South Sudan, Yemen, and Somalia. With the exception of Somalia, the food security in these nations result from “man-made food crises,” said Guterres.
The funding has not materialized. The U.N. World Food Program, which coordinates with countries to provide emergency food aid, has only received 15 percent of the money it needs. (And it could get even less, if President Donald Trump’s proposed budget were to be passed; it takes a machete to U.S. contributions for the United Nations.)
“Without sufficient financing, the World Food Program will have to reduce its vital support,” Peter Lundberg, a deputy U.N. humanitarian coordinator based in Borno, wrote last week in Le Monde. The WFP needs $242 million — $1.3 million a day for the next six months — to help feed 1.8 million people in the northeastern state, Lundberg wrote. Without further funding, food assistance to Borno will be cut.
That could create a migrant crisis in west Africa of unprecedented size. In the past four years, 200,000 Nigerians have fled into neighboring Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. With just under five million people already facing severe malnutrition inside the country, a sudden cut to emergency rations could drive even more people from Nigeria in search of relief.
It’s not inevitable, though, aid agencies say.
“We want people to understand this will work if it’s funded. We can avert the famine,” a World Food Program spokesperson told Reuters on Monday.
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