DAKAR, Jan 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Tens of thousands of displaced people in northeast Nigeria are cut off from humanitarian aid following a militant attack earlier this week, the United Nations said on Friday.
The town of Rann in Borno state was overrun by Islamist militants on Monday evening before being re-captured by the Nigerian military the next day.
About 76,000 Nigerians who had fled fighting were living in the town and dependent on aid agencies for food and health services including nutrition therapy for starving children, said the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Since the attack humanitarians have been unable to access Rann by either road or helicopter, with no idea when they might be able to return, said OCHA spokeswoman Samantha Newport.
“The attacks in Rann, that are increasingly frequent, are having a devastating impact on the civilians taking refuge in this isolated town and severely affecting our ability to deliver life-saving aid to women, men and children in need,” said Edward Kallon, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria.
Nigeria’s northeast is home to two Islamist insurgencies: Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa (ISWA), which broke away as a faction in 2016. The conflict is now in its 10th year.
Attacks have increased during the run-up to a February election in which President Muhammadu Buhari will seek a second term.
The World Food Programme delivered food aid in the end of December to Rann, so people may still have enough to eat, but markets and shelters were also burned down in the attack, said OCHA spokeswoman Newport.
About 9,000 Nigerians fled from Rann across the nearby border into Cameroon, but the UNHCR reported that almost all of them were forced to return.
Up to 170 people died in Rann in 2017 when Nigeria’s air force accidentally bombed a refugee camp, saying the site was not marked on its maps.
Violence caused at least 260 aid workers to pull out of the affected areas between November and January, the most since the humanitarian response scaled up in 2016, OCHA said, adding that some have since returned.