Boko Haram's Abubakar Shekau and his lieutenants

Boko Haram’s Abubakar Shekau and his lieutenants

LONDON, May 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Food shortages threaten some 200,000 people in northern Cameroon after cross-border raids by Islamist sect Boko Haram forced people to flee their homes and fields, the World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday.

Food production in one of Cameroon’s poorest regions is likely to be further hit by insecurity just as food reserves run low with the approach of the lean season, said WFP.

“Sometimes we’ve got nothing to eat. Sometimes just enough for the children,” Gombo, a mother of five who left her village near the Nigeria border six months ago and is living in an informal settlement near Maroua, told WFP.

“I try to make a living by cutting and selling firewood. People from the nearby village also help with food, but this is less now. I am farmer. I miss my village and working in the field.”

Boko Haram fighters seized control of a swathe of northeast Nigeria last year, killing thousands in an unprecedented land grab while increasing incursions into neighbouring countries, including Cameroon.

The number of people in northern Cameroon who have fled their homes due to cross-border violence has tripled since January to 106,000, according to U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

WFP has struggled to secure funds for its operations in Cameroon and in the past six months was only able to provide food assistance to 68,000 displaced people in April in May, and only for two weeks.

“When we went back to these people I asked them if they had any food left and the answer was no,” Adel Sarkozi, WFP spokeswoman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview from Yaounde, Cameroon’s capital.

She said that some 35 percent of children in border areas were malnourished.

Unless funding is secured, WFP will only be able to provide life-saving assistance to 20 percent of the 225,000 people it aims to support, said Sarkozi.

Though a military campaign by Nigeria backed by its neighbours Chad, Niger and Cameroon has driven Boko Haram out of many positions it previously held, the UN still expects refugee numbers to rise.