Northeast Nigeria is facing famine-like conditions which have put at risk the lives of more than 4.4 million people, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says.
According to the UN, the situation in Borno and the Lake Chad Basin was comparable to the food crisis that hit Darfur and South Sudan and $220 million were needed for the 'next 10 weeks to keep people alive'.
Toby Lanzer, the UN's regional humanitarian coordinator for the region, said progress had been made in recent years, as the Boko-Haram militants lost control of territory.
But he said he was "horrified" by the condition of people on a recent visit to the town of Bama, adding that the situation in Dikwa and Monguno towns was "equally as worrying".
"I have worked in many, many places -- Central African Republic, Darfur, South Sudan -- and the condition of people in very rural parts of Borno state is as bad as I have ever seen," he was quoted as saying by AFP.
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Nigeria, whose revenues have been hit by sustained low global oil prices, does not have the resources to cope and cannot do much more, he added.
UN accused of inaction
International NGOs have faced difficulties accessing places such as Bama, which is some 70 kilometres (45 miles) from the Borno state capital of Maiduguri, because of roads still prone to ambush and attack.
The medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said last month at least 188 people had died mainly from diarrhoea and malnutrition at a camp in the town since June 22.
MSF, in a strongly worded statement to the Guardian, also blamed top aid agencies for moving very slowly on the warnings it had sounded over the situation in Nigeria.
“We’ve been calling to the UN, to the headquarters of Unicef, WFP [World Food Programme], OCHA and their response has been ‘Yes, we’re doing this and that’… But you cannot just be satisfied to say you built X number of latrines, delivered X bags of food when people are dying. It’s not enough,” Isabelle Mouniaman, head of Médecins Sans Frontières operations in Nigeria, was quoted as saying by the Guardian.
“The Red Cross is doing their job, MSF is doing their job, but the vast majority of humanitarian organisations are failing in their responsibility towards the crisis in Borno,” Mouniaman added.
According to AFP, in early June at least 10 people were starving to death every day at a camp in Banki, 60 kilometres from Bama, and that 376 people had died in three months.
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Meanwhile, the UN children's fund UNICEF said 250,000 children under five risked severe acute malnutrition in Borno this year and if nothing was done, 50,000 could die.
Lanzer said a UN team had managed to go to Banki from Cameroon three days ago but access was still a problem.
"The condition of people is awful. There are dozens of people dying daily of malnutrition... Our assessment is there are 15,000 people and five of them are dying daily as we speak," he added.
"In my 20 years of working in these type of places, I have never seen an F (famine). I don't want one to appear on my watch. We will do everything we can to avoid it."
Last Friday, the USAID-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) said "a famine... could be occurring in the worst affected and less accessible pockets of the state".
Famine is declared where at least 20 percent of an area's population faces an extreme lack of food and at least 30 percent of children are acutely malnourished. The death rate also has to exceed 2/10,000 per day.
Lanzer said the emergency funding, if secured, will go towards providing clean water, medicine, blankets and nutrition.
Nigeria has released 10,000 tonnes of emergency food supplies and is helping international agencies with visas and customs clearance, he added.