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Hunger, Death Stalk Millions in Forgotten Lake Chad Basin

FILE - (L-R) UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O'Brien, Germany's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sigmar Gabriel, Norway's Minister of Foreign Affairs Borge Brende, and Nigeria's Minister of Foreign Affairs Geoffrey Onyeama attend a press conference at the Oslo Humanitarian Conference on Nigeria and the Lake Chad Region in Oslo, Norway, Feb. 24, 2017.

The United Nations is asking the international community to help millions of refugees and displaced people in Africa's Lake Chad Basin. The Boko Haram insurgency is mainly responsible for a crisis that has left huge numbers vulnerable to hunger, malnutrition and violence.

The Lake Chad Basin is into the ninth year of a humanitarian crisis that does not appear to be easing.

The United Nations has appealed for $1.5 billion to provide life-saving aid for some 7.8 million people in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Though half of the year has gone by, only one third of this urgently-needed money has been received.

The region's four U.N. humanitarian coordinators came to Geneva this week to brief member states about the emergency facing people in the area and to plead for them not to be neglected and forgotten.

Humanitarian coordinator for Niger, Bintou Djibo, described the suffering of civilians who lack protection and run many risks in this insecure, lawless region.

"Millions of innocent women, children and men are at risk of human rights violations including kidnappings, killings, rape and sexual exploitation and abuse," he said. "Across the region, people continue to be displaced from their homes either due to conflict, food insecurity or the effect of climate change."

The United Nations reports 2.4 million people remain displaced because of the nine-year-old Boko Haram insurgency. It said five million people are seriously short of food and require assistance.

Djibo said malnutrition is widespread and life-threatening.

"Children are always the most vulnerable in any humanitarian crisis," he said. "Nearly half a million children under five years are suffering from severe acute malnutrition.Without treatment, they risk death."

Protection needs are particularly acute within Nigeria, where Boko Haram militants continue to wreak havoc with the population.

The humanitarian coordinator for Nigeria, Edward Kallon, told VOA Boko Haram is still very active, though it has changed its tactics, concentrating on suicide bombings instead of large-scale attacks.

"Boko Haram is still a potent force," he said. "There is a lot of rhetoric that the war has been won, but the practical experience we have in the field is that it is becoming very much asymmetrical warfare and they are all scattered in small splinter groups, which makes them more potent and very risky for international staff."

The U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Cameroon, Allegra Balocchi, said all countries in the Lake Chad Basin are affected in different degrees by this group.

"All our countries have had several hundreds if not thousands of surrender-ees — Boko Haram coming out and wanting to be given another option.I think the countries have taken advantage of this in different ways," she said. "I speak for Cameroon and I think we are a bit late in trying to pull together a demobilization and a stabilization strategy. So, that remains a priority."

U.N. officials agree Boko Haram will not be defeated militarily. They say the root causes must be tackled, especially the poverty and lack of development in the four countries that have pushed many into joining the militant group.