DAKAR - Famine could soon strike tens of thousands of people in northeast Nigeria as food stocks run low, prices soar and aid supplies dwindle due to the Boko Haram insurgency, a leading humanitarian agency said on Monday.
The hunger crisis is set to worsen by late August as the lean season before harvest takes its toll, driving up the number of people in need of food aid by at least half a million to 5.2 million, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).
About 50,000 people are predicted by the United Nations' food agency to be at risk of famine, yet the situation could be far worse with many areas cut off from help due to the threat of Boko Haram, said Cheick Ba, the NRC country director in Nigeria.
The jihadist group's eight-year insurgency to create an Islamic state in northeast Nigeria has killed more than 20,000 people and forced 2.7 million people to flee their homes.
The militants have been driven out of most of the territory they held in early 2015, yet continue to carry out bombings and raids in northeast Nigeria, as well as in Cameroon and Niger.
"Armed conflict and violence are driving this food crisis," Ba said in a statement. "Innocent families are bearing the brunt ... even after they have escaped horrific violence."
"We [NRC] were forced to reduce the food basket we provide to families this month, to make up for the increased price of rice beans and millet," Ba added, explaining how prices in conflict-hit areas were 150 percent higher than in 2015.
A funding shortfall recently forced the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) to cut back emergency food aid for about 400,000 people, and just focus on helping the 1.4 million most in need.
The WFP's regional director told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in May that hundreds of thousands of people in the northeast could starve to death this year due to the shortfall.
Nigeria's aid response plan for 2017 has been less than half funded to date — $444 million of a requested $1.05 billion - according to the U.N.'s Financial Tracking Service (FTS).
"Providing people with food is only a short term solution," said Ba of the NRC. "The crisis will only end when the conflict has been resolved and communities can safely return to their land to rebuild their lives."