Nigeria’s economic slowdown, compounded by Boko Haram attacks, could mean 5.5 million people needing food aid in the volatile North-east by next month, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has warned.

The warning came as the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) disclosed that about 161,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from the North Eastern part of Nigeria were still at various camps in three neighbouring countries of Chad, Niger and Cameroon.

It also emerged that, as part of efforts to end insurgency, the Nigerian Army had embarked on operations in forests in Bauchi State in order to flush out fleeing Boko Haram members and criminal elements in the state.

UNHCR, while issuing the warning, noted that, as government troops advance against the militants, the somewhat better access for aid workers under military escort to Borno and Yobe states has exposed “catastrophic levels” of suffering and a “vast regional crisis.”

Inflation and soaring food prices come at a time when people have little left from the last harvest, according the U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP) .

“Because of Nigeria’s economic downturn, the number of hungry people could double in the North-eastern states that are already so heavily afflicted by the conflict,” WFP spokeswoman, Bettina Luescher, told a news briefing.

“Our experts are warning it could go as high as 5.5 million people by next month,” she said. “The drop in oil prices and sharp rise in the cost of imported staples has compounded the years of violence that these poor people had to suffer.”
WFP has delivered food to 170,000 people in North-eastern Nigeria, but hopes to reach 700,000 by year-end, Luescher said.
It is also providing aid to 400,000 people in the three other Lake Chad Basin countries – Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

Minister of Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, said on Thursday that Nigeria’s crude output had fallen to 1.56 million barrels per day (bpd) as persistent militant attacks have taken out around 700,000 bpd.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said late July that severely malnourished children were dying in large numbers in North-east Nigeria, the former stronghold of Boko Haram militants where food supplies were close to running out. The aid agency warned of “pockets of what is close to a famine”.

UNHCR spokesman, Adrian Edwards, said also that the situation remained dangerous and volatile, following an attack on an aid convoy last month. “There have been frequent ‘hit and run’ incidents by militants, including suicide bombings, attacks on civilians, torching of homes, and thefts of livestock.”

Armoured vehicles and military escorts are urgently needed to provide protection for aid workers, he said. “We have seen adults so exhausted they are unable to move, and children with swollen faces and hollow eyes and other clear indications of acute malnutrition,” Edwards said

The Director General, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Muhammed Sani-Sidi has disclosed that about 161,000 IDPs from the North Eastern part of Nigeria are still at various camps in three neighbouring countries of Chad, Niger and Cameroon.

Sidi, noted that efforts were currently being made by federal government ensure that displaced persons at various camps both within and outside neighbouring countries return back home safely.

He made this known on Friday at a press conference to mark the 2016 World Humanitarian Day in Abuja.
While speaking on the theme of this year’s world Humanitarian day celebration, ‘One Humanity,’ is aimed at inspiring people from around the world to demand for greater global commitment and support for the agenda for humanity, which is part of on-going communications initiated during World Humanitarian Summit held in Istanbul, Turkey in May this year.

According to him, “There are still about 18,000 Nigerians in Cameroon, 26,000 in Chad and about 55, 000 in Niger Republic, respectively. All stakeholders have been working and putting in their best. Yes! The needs are there, we are equally working to meet these needs on daily basis.”

Sidi said: “We have camps in Yobe, Adamawa, Maiduguri. But, as we mark this day, I can tell you categorically that, about 40 per cent of the camps in the North East have been shut down.
“Twelve camps in Adamawa have been closed while six of the seven in Yobe have been shut down as displaced persons have started returning home voluntarily following the liberation of their communities by the military and the establishment of state structures.”

He added that most of the remaining camps were in Maiduguri where there are over one million IDPs from Borno State alone. “We have 26 formal camps in Maiduguri but, displaced persons in the camps in other states are voluntarily going back home as almost 40 per cent of the camps have been closed,” said Sidi.

Continuing, he stated that just recently and because of the successes recorded by the military, new humanitarian challenges were coming up. Adding that the federal government was at the process of bringing on board micro plans that will address the critical issues of those in needs.

Sidi, however, commends the efforts of various aid workers within and outside the country urging them not to relent in their services to provide humanitarian support to the needy.
Meanwhile, the Commander, 33 Artillery Brigade Bauchi, Brigadier General, Abraham Luka Dusu, while addressing journalists at one of the forests said aggressive operations were currently going on in Lame Forest in Toro Local Government Area and Burra Forest in Ningi Local Government Area of the state to clear them of terrorists who may be hiding there.

Dusu said the Chief of Army Staff, General Yusuf Buratai, had directed the Brigade to carry out the operations after complaints by residents of the areas that they had been noticing movements of unidentified people with arms at the forests.

“Following many complaints and the information we received from residents that people carrying guns have been sighted in the forest or migrated to the state from Sambisa forest as a result of operations there. We have commenced operations in these forests and as I speak with you, operations are currently going on in Lame and Burra Forests of the state to clear them of all criminal elements.

“For the past two days operations by our officers and men have been going on in line with the directive of the Chief of Army Staff that the Brigade should carry out these operations to get rid of the criminals there.

“We are going to enter all the forests in the state and any other location within the state where there are reports of bandits, kidnappers and cattle rustlers. We have adequate troops and I will also tell you that we have air support to flush them out,” the Army Chief stated.

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