Fear of new Boko Haram attacks in the Lake Chad area is discouraging around 100,000 people uprooted by violence from heading home and is hindering aid operations, agencies said on Wednesday, days after Chad extended its state of emergency.
Chad helped force the Islamist group to cede territory last year, undermining its six-year campaign to carve out a Nigerian caliphate, but the militants have since ramped up attacks and suicide bombings in remote border areas around Lake Chad.
While a lull in attacks in recent months has allowed aid agencies to reach most of those displaced around the lake, the security situation remains volatile and unpredictable, said the UN Office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs (OCHA).
“People don’t want to go home as they don’t feel safe, and know that there is a period of military operations against Boko Haram until the rainy season begins in June,” OCHA Chad’s head of office Florent Méhaule told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Chad’s national assembly on Monday extended by six months the state of emergency imposed on the region in November, which means fishing and travelling by boat or motorbike are banned and aid groups must travel with military escorts, Méhaule said.
“Having escorts can hinder aid access and cause confusion... we are advocating for a softer state of emergency as it has an impact on the livelihoods of people in the region,” he added.
The fear of attacks has disrupted fishing, farming and cattle breeding, hit cross-border trade and markets, and left more than 100,000 people without enough to eat, aid agencies say.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP), which in February delivered food aid to 5,000 people who had been cut off from help since November, said it had since provided food to a further 60,000 displaced people living around Lake Chad.
Yet the WFP said malnutrition in some areas north of the lake affected one in five children, and could worsen without intervention, and that more than 300,000 people may need urgent food aid during the upcoming lean season.
“Several different impacts - insecurity, closed markets, reduced rainfall and a lack of food - are coming together and placing people in a crisis,” said Mary-Ellen McGroarty, WFP country director for Chad.
Amid the threat of malnutrition and malaria, many of the displaced lack access to healthcare, according to Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), which runs mobile medical clinics across the region and provides mental healthcare.
“It is essential to provide support for those who have suffered at the hands of Boko Haram,” said Federica Alberti, MSF head of mission for Chad.