The UN has described the unfolding disaster in north-eastern Nigeria as the “greatest crisis on the continent” – the full extent of which has only been revealed as extremist militant group Boko Haram is pushed back.
It was already known the Islamist group had killed 15,000 and pushed more than two million from their homes. But as they retreated, it became clear there were thousands more people living in famine-like conditions in urgent need of help.
The UN estimated in December there were 75,000 children at risk of starving to death. Another 7.1 million people in Nigeria and the neighbouring Lake Chad area are considered “severely food insecure”.
Aid is being further hampered by Boko Haram attacks, lack of rule of law, under-development.
There are still areas under the control of Boko Haram, which aid agencies cannot reach.
There have also been allegations of widespread aid theft, which are being investigated by Nigeria’s senate.
The report is part of a more detailed report issuing a plea for help to avoid “a catastrophe” in three other countries apart from Nigeria, Yemen, Somalia and South Africa facing a similar crisis.
UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien said that more than 20 million people faced the threat of starvation and famine in those four countries.
Unicef has already warned 1.4m children could starve to death this year.
Mr O’Brien said $4.4bn (£3.6bn) was needed by July to avert disaster.
“We stand at a critical point in history,” Mr O’Brien told the Security Council on Friday. “Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations.”
“Now, more than 20 million people across four countries face starvation and famine. Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death. Many more will suffer and die from disease.