United Nations Assistant Secretary-General, Toby Lanzer, said the suffering in northeast Nigeria and surrounding areas was the worst he had ever witnessed.
“I have worked in Darfur,” Lanzer told reporters, referring to the war-torn Sudanese region. “The scale and the depth of suffering that I have seen (in Nigeria) is unparalleled in my experience.”
Boko Haram has waged a brutal insurgency in the country’s northeast, with violence spreading more recently to western Cameroon as well as the south of Chad and Niger.
The UN has appealed for a $739m to cover needs across the entire affected region — known as the Lake Chad Basin — but has received commitments for just $197m (€176m).
“If we don’t engage in a much more comprehensive manner, including scaling up our emergency relief programmes, what awaits us down the line is the biggest crisis facing any of us, anywhere,” Lanzer said.
More than nine million people are in “desperate” need of aid, Lanzer said.
The United Nations had not declared a famine in the Lake Chad Basin, but Lanzer warned that 65,000 people were living in “famine-like conditions”.
The UN has also said that up to 80,000 children in the region could die if they do not get food aid within the next year.
When Boko Haram violence was at its peak through 2013 and 2014, the UN and other aid groups were unaware of the gravity of needs because access to conflict-ridden areas was largely impossible.
Nigeria’s military has since made gains against the extremists and emergency workers have moved in, unveiling a catastrophe unrivalled “anywhere except that of Syria,” Lanzer said, warning the Lake Chad could overtake Syria in terms of the scale of the needs.
The Boko Haram conflict, which began in northeast Nigeria in 2009, has displaced an estimated 2.6 million people.
At least 20,000 have died in violence blamed on the Islamists, but the numbers killed by causes linked to the conflict are likely much higher.