DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Tens of thousands of people have been uprooted by a recent surge in violence between farmers and herders in central Nigeria that may spiral further, aid workers and analysts said on Wednesday.
Nomadic herdsmen and local farmers have for decades clashed over land and resources in the West African country, but fighting has sharply escalated in recent weeks. An attack on June 23 was the bloodiest in months, leaving more than 200 dead.
An estimated 38,000 people in central Plateau state have fled or lost their homes since the attack last month and are living in crowded, makeshift camps with little food and few facilities, according to Geneva-based research group ACAPS.
“They left their homes with little or no belongings,” Red Cross spokeswoman Aleksandra Mosimann told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“They’re in a situation where they need everything now.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) started distributing food, clothing and hygiene kits on Tuesday and aims to reach at least 22,000 people in the current aid drive, although it expects the number in need to rise, Mosimann said.
Heavy rain and mud have slowed down distributions, she said.
The rain also heightens the risk of waterborne disease outbreaks such as cholera, said ACAPS analyst Alex Odlum.
Nigeria has seen similar levels of displacement due to farmer-herder conflict in other parts of its Middle Belt region, but it is unusual for Plateau state, he said.
“I think it’s an emerging crisis, (and) one that maybe requires humanitarian responders to adjust their operation,” Odlum told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Most aid groups are focused on the northeast, where Islamist militants Boko Haram have been waging a nine-year insurgency that has driven millions of people from their homes, he added.
But this year, attacks by Fulani - the main ethnic group of nomadic herdsmen in Nigeria - on civilians have been about 50 percent more frequent than Boko Haram strikes, shows the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project - a public dataset.
Farmer-herder clashes have increased partly because Boko Haram and growing desertification in the north have pushed herders toward greener farming areas in the south, analysts said. It is unclear what triggered the latest spell of violence.
Reporting by Nellie Peyton, Editing by Kieran Guilbert; Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit www.trust.org