Aid agencies have just 18 months to deal with the fall-out from the Boko Haram conflict or Nigeria could face the consequences for years to come, the United Nations said on Thursday.
The world body’s humanitarian coordinator in the country, Edward Kallon, said there was a “very short window of opportunity” to address the aftermath of the insurgency, which began in 2009.
In that time, at least 20,000 people in Nigeria’s remote northeast have been killed and more than 2.6 million others made homeless.
The full extent of the conflict’s effect on locals has gradually been revealed in the last year, as military operations pushed out the Islamists from captured territory.
The World Food Programme has highlighted “famine-like” conditions and there have been warnings that 450,000 children face severe acute malnutrition this year if nothing is done.
“We have to put out the fire in 18 months in northeast Nigeria. If we don’t succeed in putting out the fire in 18 months, the situation will become protracted and chronic,” said Kallon.
He told reporters in Abuja that a lack of cash hindered assistance last year, even though aid agencies ramped up operations, and “immediate funding” was needed.
A conference is being held in Norway’s capital, Oslo, next week to attract donors for programmes in Nigeria and Cameroon, Chad and Niger, which have also been hit by the violence.
Of particular concern are the hundreds of thousands of people forced into camps and to stay with relatives and friends across the northeast.
Nigeria’s government has said it wants to close the camps and return many of the internally displaced to their home towns and villages as soon as possible.
More than one million have gone back since August 2015, said Kallon.
But there have been concerns about what awaits them, with homes and businesses destroyed, and basic services and infrastructure lacking because of the fighting.
The UN this year wants to raise more than $1 billion (941 million euros) to provide food, shelter, healthcare and education, after a disappointing 2016 which saw only 53 percent of funding met.
Another shortfall “will expose vulnerable children, women, girls and youths to risks the country may fail to deal with in the future”, said Kallon.
He added there was no quick-fix to helping the displaced, noting that some cases elsewhere in the world can take 10 years or longer to rehabilitate.