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Boko Haram Violence Increasing Hunger, Malnutrition in Region

FILE - People who fled their homes due to violence from the Islamic extremists group Boko Haram are seen inside a refugee camp in Minawao, Cameroon, Feb. 25, 2015.

The World Food Program (WFP) says it is scaling up aid for hundreds of thousands of hungry people, many severely malnourished, who have fled to Chad, Niger and Cameroon to escape attacks by Boko Haram militants in northeastern Nigeria.

According to the WFP, nearly three quarters of a million people in countries bordering Nigeria are facing a worsening food crisis linked to increased violence by Boko Haram militants.

WFP spokeswoman Bettina Luescher told VOA that recent attacks have led to a sudden surge of internally displaced people and refugees.

“We are quite concerned about people [who] are really afraid of Boko Haram. They are telling harrowing stories about fleeing from the violence, being on the run, sometimes traveling for several days and we have to make sure that especially the children and moms are being taken care of,” Luescher said.

The WFP says it plans to increase food aid to more than 650,000 vulnerable people in Chad, Niger and Cameroon. The agency warns the security crisis playing out in the region could lead to prolonged hunger.

Impacts from this emergency already are visible. The WFP reports a dramatic rise in malnutrition among children under five and women in the areas affected by Boko Haram violence. It says acute malnutrition rates in some areas of Chad have passed the World Health Organization’s emergency threshold of 22.5 percent.

In addition, WFP spokeswoman Luescher said peoples’ livelihoods in the countries of refuge are being severely disrupted.

“Closed borders have disrupted trade. They have halted access to farmland, prevented herders from reaching grazing land. Fishing, which is a really important part for living for many people in Chad, is banned for security reasons. In Chad, rural households in affected areas sold more livestock than in a normal year, meaning they are trying to get some money in order to buy food,” she said.

Luescher added that people are resorting to extreme measures to survive. She said one in three households reportedly are falling into debt and selling whatever they have to obtain food.

She said the WFP is appealing for $16.3 million to respond to the emergency.