Toby Lanzer, UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for Africa’s Sahel region, said Nigerian refugees in Cameroon, where they have sought refuge, are now under threat for lack of food, water and possible outbreak of deadly epidemics.
He disclosed this on Tuesday in New York, after a week-long visit to Yaounde, Cameroon,, and the Far North region, to assess the mounting humanitarian impact of the crisis in neighbouring northeast Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin.
Lanzer said many of the refugees fled overnight, leaving all they had behind, and now relied on humanitarian assistance and the scarce resources of host communities that were already on the brink before the crisis.
He said a report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), indicated that grave concerns persisted for some 20 million people in the Sahel region.
“The recurrent conflict, erratic weather patterns, epidemics and other shocks, continue to weaken the resilience of households across a region still suffering chronic levels of food insecurity and malnutrition.
“Beyond the chronic threats of food insecurity, malnutrition and epidemics, violent conflicts in and around the Sahel region, has led to a surge in population displacement,’’ he said.
The UN official noted that Cameroon’s Far North region hosted more than 200,000 forced migrants.
He said this included 80,000 internally displaced persons and over 57,000 Nigerian refugees, who fled the violence and settled either in the Minawao refugee camp, or with local communities along border areas.
“Families on the run often survive brutal attacks and face severe trauma.
“As if this is not enough of a burden, we now worry that their lives are threatened by the lack of food and water, malnutrition and deadly epidemics, such as cholera and measles.
“In the Far North, food insecurity has dramatically spiked in recent months, affecting one in every three people,” he said.
Lanzer noted that insecurity is undermining population movements, daily commercial and agricultural activities, adversely impacting the livelihoods of communities still recovering from a decade of droughts.
“As farmers were forced to flee away from their lands, many will miss the harvest next month. Without timely humanitarian assistance, communities may take years to recover.
Ms. Najat Rochdi, the UN Humanitarian and Resident Coordinator in Cameroon, stated that funding of Cameroon’s humanitarian appeal covers barely 40 per cent of the needs.
She said this is threatening the viability of humanitarian response to the Far North over the coming months.
Rochdi said food distribution, access to health services and psycho-social care, were parts of the agency’s top priorities to save lives and restore the dignity of the displaced.
“A renewed engagement by development actors is also essential if we are to address the root causes of chronic vulnerability and ensure stability of the region in a durable manner.