‘Gruelling’ lean season ahead for areas of Sahel impacted by Boko Haram violence – UN agency

Refugees in Minawao camp , Cameroon, after fleeing violence by Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria. Photo: WFP/Sofia Engdahl

Geneva, 7 May 2015 – Thousands of women and children in regions where Boko Haram violence has spilled into Cameroon, Niger and Chad, face a gruelling lean season and worsening malnutrition, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned today.

“Women displaced by conflict have lost their husbands, walked for days to safety and rely on the support of already-vulnerable communities,” said Denise Brown, WFP Regional Director for West Africa, stressing that “the lean season is upon us, and as local granaries are emptying, women tell of their families going hungry.”

The current lean season – when food needs among the most vulnerable are typically at their highest – which coincides with the rainy season and greatest hunger needs, is also sparking extra health risks.

According to WFP, the new displacement is being fueled by Boko Haram violence. In the past few days, thousands of people in Niger and Chad have been forced to flee their homes for safety. In Cameroon, the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) has tripled in the past four months, while the number of IDPs in all three countries is nearly equal to that of Nigerian refugees.

“No one is untouched by the Boko Haram violence,” said Ms. Brown, adding that “crises involving refugees, displaced people, food and nutrition are converging on the poorest parts of West Africa.”

In the first quarter of 2015, WFP provided food to more than 100,000 refugees, returnees, internally displaced and vulnerable people, and treatment to more than 30,000 children. It is also assisting nursing mothers suffering from malnutrition in Cameroon, Niger and Chad.

However, due to a lack of funding, less than half the people WFP planned to support have received life-saving assistance. In Cameroon, displaced people and host communities were without food assistance for four months. Only in April was WFP able to provide food assistance, but only to some displaced and with reduced rations.

“WFP is ready to scale up its response rapidly to meet growing needs if we have sufficient funding to do so,” said Ms. Brown, warning that “vulnerable communities in dire need of help in these three countries cannot afford to have less than half the support that they so urgently need.”

Meanwhile, WFP is concerned about the precarious nutrition situation of new arrivals in countries bordering on northern Nigeria, especially as malnutrition rate has surpassed the 15 percent emergency threshold among children under five and nursing mothers.