The U.N.'s World Food Program says thousands of destitute people in Cameroon's crisis-prone western regions are going hungry and their situations may become worse if the separatist crisis there continues. Chris Nikoi, WFP regional director for west and central Africa is visiting hungry community members – most of them farmers chased from their farms by Cameroon's separatist conflicts who are pleading to be spared from fighting between the military and separatists.
Hundreds of civilians in the town of Bamenda Thursday welcomed Nikoi in their English-speaking town in Cameroon's restive North-West region.
Among those who came out was 59-year-old farmer Clifford Tayong. Tayong said he asked Nikoi to thank the WFP for the assistance the U.N. body has been giving people suffering as a result of the separatist crisis in Cameroon’s western regions.
Tayong said besides rice and vegetable oil, the WFP gave him and his three children $60 in August. He said his family again received $80 from the WFP in September. Tayong said he used the money to buy school supplies for his children. He said he also bought two roosters and eight hens to start a poultry farm that will enable him to earn money and take care of his family.
Tayong said he lost all his beans and corn when his one-hectare farm was burned down in the English-speaking Bafut Subdivision near Bamenda. He said the military accused him of giving food to separatist fighters and torched his farm.
Tayong and many others who fled the separatist crisis recounted their suffering to Nikoi. They pleaded to be spared from the fighting and said they wanted to return to their villages.
Nikoi said thousands of Cameroonians chased from their towns and villages by the separatist crisis are now very poor and hungry.
"I can't help thinking about the women and the men and the stories about their farms being torched and to the point where the little dignity that they are able to retain in their lives is because of the monthly little assistance that they are having from the World Food Program, so I am living here proud of what we are doing to sustain people's lives," he said.
Nikoi said famine looms should the separatist crisis persist and force farmers to stay away from their fields. He said the WFP is assisting 280,000 civilians in the English-speaking North-West region.
Most of those receiving WFP assistance are displaced persons living with disabilities, pregnant women or people whose houses have been burned.
Farmers say their farms, houses and plantations have been destroyed by both government troops and separatist fighters. They say separatist fighters torch houses and farms of people suspected of collaborating with government troops, while government troops destroy the properties of people suspected of supporting the rebels.
Both the Cameroon military and separatists have always denied that their troops target civilians, their farms, plantations or houses.
Cameroon Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Gabriel Mbairobe said farmers who return to their farms will be given seed and fertilizers at reduced prices. He said the military will protect displaced people who return to places where there is relative peace.
The WFP reports that as part of its crisis response operations, it distributed 1,608 metric tons of food to 199,000 beneficiaries in Cameroon's North-West and South-West regions. The U.N. also reports that as part of its malnutrition prevention program the WFP provided 48 metric tons of specialized nutritious foods to 8,100 children aged 6 to 59 months and to 5,500 girls and pregnant women.
According to the U.N., 4.4 million of the 25 million Cameroonians need humanitarian assistance, and more than 1.9 million were food-insecure between June and August.
The separatist crisis has forced more than 750,000 people to flee their homes since the conflict erupted in late 2017, according to the U.N. Ongoing armed clashes, civilian casualties and the burning of houses, hospitals and other infrastructure are causing further displacement, suffering and hunger.