Cameroonians fleeing Boko Haram desperate for food

2017-02-24 21:03

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Kolofata - Homeless and hungry, Fadi is a young widow from Cameroon who was forced by Boko Haram's brutal insurgency to flee her village near the Nigerian border.

But despite all she has suffered, and even in the relative safety of a camp for displaced people, she doesn't have enough food.

"We just want to eat. If you can please help us," begs the 17-year-old, after barely surviving Boko Haram's violence in the Lake Chad region - the focus of a donor conference in Norway on Friday.

Fadi's husband was murdered last year in a jihadist attack on their village, Grea, near Nigeria.

"They broke into our house, they killed him and they left," she said, adding that she did not know why he had been executed.

"After burying him, we fled."

Like thousands of others, Fadi has found temporary shelter in a camp filled with shoddily-built straw shacks.

The dry season has dried up the rivers, and children gathering at a camp well walk away with half-empty buckets.

At the entrance of the camp in Kolofata town, a group of men gather together to share a single plate of cooked millet.

"We often go to bed with empty stomachs," Fadi says.

Another woman at the camp, Mariam Malabba, is also hungry. "I want to eat!" she cries, nursing her child.

"Our food ration only includes millet. Fish or meat? No, no! Those are luxuries we cannot afford," says Malabba, who fled her village after Boko Haram killed several of her relatives.

"It's hard to get enough to eat. Food is in very short supply," says Oumarou Abba, who fled the village of Kerawa near the Nigerian border.

'Limited resources' 

Just a few metres  from the camp entrance, crowds gather as the International Committee of the Red Cross prepares a food distribution for 2 500 families.

It is the ICRC's first such distribution in Kolofata, which has seen a dearth of humanitarian aid since the Boko Haram insurgency spilled over the border in 2014.

Security guards carrying metal detectors are deployed to ensure that no attacks are carried out, in an area hit by several suicide bombings in recent months.

A woman carrying a baby in a sling puts a 12kg sack of flour over her head as she picks up a bag packed with rice, beans and oil.

An older woman raises both hands to the sky, grateful for the handouts.

With his young daughter's help, a man loads two sacks of rice and flour onto his motorbike. "We are happy with this help, it's the first time," he says.

But others in the crowd are disappointed they haven't received anything.

"We help the most vulnerable. We have limited resources," the ICRC's Bah Ibrahima says.

"The needs are huge."

The International Crisis Group think tank has said that overall, the flashpoint Far North province of Cameroon near Nigeria hosts some 1.6 million people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.

The group also called on the international community to "find ways to improve overcrowded refugee camps and mitigate growing problems for the local population".

On Friday, donor countries in Oslo pledged $672m in emergency aid for people threatened by famine in the Lake Chad region - which includes Cameroon.

The UN says the pledged sum is just a fraction of what is needed, however.

More than 1 500 Cameroonian civilians, soldiers and police officers have been killed since a string of attacks blamed on Boko Haram began in the west African country in 2014.

Read more on:    boko haram  |  west africa

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