Boko Haram violence inflicts more suffering on already vulnerable communities in Cameroon's Far North Region

Violence by Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria and insecurity across the border inflict more suffering on people living in Cameroon’s Far North Region. More than 100,000 people in the northern region of Cameroon are uprooted as Boko Haram violence has spilled across the border, doubling the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in the past two months. In addition, about 74,000 Nigerians – forced to leave behind their homes, family and livelihoods – are seeking refuge in the Far North region. The World Food Programme has been supporting those in need with food distributions and nutrition activities to address high rates of malnutrition, especially amongst the newly arrived refugee children and mothers. Funding shortfalls, however, threaten to seriously hamper WFP’s ability to provide life-saving assistance to all people in dire need of help.

The Far North Region is one of Cameroon’s poorest regions. The influx of IDPs and refugees, and the drastic livelihoods disruption caused by violence in Nigeria and across the border have worsened the plight of thousands of people. Farmers have been forced to abandon their fields, depriving them of sufficient food and income, whilst cross-border trade has been significantly disrupted. Nearly 200,000 people are facing an acute food insecurity and livelihood crisis in the areas hosting refugees, returnees and IDPs. Of the nearly 200,000 refugees and IDPs, only about 45,000 live in a camp setting, the vast majority living with host populations, putting additional pressure on already strained communities.

WFP provided food to almost 32,000 refugees at the Minawao camp, located about 130 km from the border with Nigeria. Before refugees are even registered at the camp, WFP provides them with high-energy biscuits, which are often much needed after long and grueling journeys.

Refugees in Minawao camp.  Photo: WFP/Sofia Engdahl.

However, due to funding gaps, IDPs and host communities in the Far North region have missed out on essential food assistance for the past six months. Only in mid-April, WFP was able to provide a reduced ration (covering food needs for 15 days) to some 20,000 IDPs – about a quarter of the current number of IDPs.

IDPs in Fotokol region during WFP food distribution.  Photo WFP/Boubakary Bello.

The high level of malnutrition among newly arrived refugees is also worrisome. When people arrive in the Minawao camp, often tired and hungry, they are typically screened for malnutrition. The emergency threshold for Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) is 15 percent, but among the refugees in the camp, levels have risen to over 22 percent. With the onset of the rainy season, the nutrition situation is likely to worsen. 

One refugee, 23-year-old Aicha, arrived in the camp barefoot, with her twin babies, having lost her shoes along the journey. “Militants came, killed, and took all our property. We walked by foot to get to Cameroon – we had no money and nothing to eat on the way.”

Photo: WFP/Sofia Engdahl

Both of her children are suffering from Moderate Acute Malnutrition (MAM), and are now receiving help in a WFP-supported heath facility set up in the camp. In an effort to reduce the high malnutrition rate, WFP plans to distribute highly nutritious food supplements to over 10,200 children in the Minawao camp. Across the Far North Region, WFP plans to expand its activities to 167 locations, reaching 41,700 children to combat malnutrition and food insecurity.

Refugees in the Minawao camp.  Photo WFP/Sofia Engdahl.

Overall, WFP aims to support 225,000 people in Cameroon, a number that includes refugees, returnees, IDPs, and host communities. But without urgent funding, in May and June, WFP will only be able to cover the needs of refugees in the Minawao camp – only 20 percent of the total people WFP aims to support. To provide life-saving assistance to all those in need through the end of 2015, WFP requires US$40.3 million.  

Refugees in Minawao camp. Photo: WFP/Sofia Engdahl.

To date, WFP has been able to secure US$ 9 million, leaving a funding gap of 78 percent. Vulnerable communities across the Far North Region cannot afford to have less than a quarter of the support that they so direly need.

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