By Lin Taylor
LONDON, Jan 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Women in the
Lake Chad basin have been forced to sell sex to survive due to a
conflict that has driven millions from their homes and left
children to starve, the International Committee of the Red Cross
(ICRC) said on Thursday.
An insurgency by Boko Haram militants has displaced more
than 2.4 million people across the swamplands of Lake Chad,
where the borders of Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria meet, and
disrupted the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of others.
Up to a million people have been cut off from humanitarian
aid by Boko Haram despite a regional military offensive against
the Islamist militants, according to the United Nations.
"It's (extraordinary) ... to see a woman and her family and
they have nothing other than what they've been given. The
children are clearly malnourished and it's just hopeless," said
Simon Brooks, head of ICRC's delegation in Cameroon.
As the head of their households, some mothers have been
forced to sell sex so they could feed their family, since many
no longer have husbands because of the conflict, Brooks said.
"When you don't have the means to survive, you'll go begging
for it. It's a loss of dignity when you're having to resort to
something like that just to keep your children alive -
fraternising with people who have money."
The unfolding catastrophe in the Lake Chad basin was named
the most neglected crisis of 2016 in a poll of aid agencies by
the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Overshadowed by the wars in Syria and Iraq and the global
refugee and migrant crisis, Lake Chad has barely made the
headlines, Brooks said during an interview in London.
More than 7 million people lack food but insecurity makes it
hard for aid agencies to reach the most vulnerable.
Half a million children are severely acutely malnourished
and on the brink of death if they are not treated, Brooks said.
"This area has suffered from decades of chronic neglect ...
if it continues to be under-funded and under-reported, then
millions of people will continue to suffer," he said.
The ICRC says it has drastically scaled up its work in the
Lake Chad region, including cash transfers to displaced people
and food aid, making its operation there its second largest in
the world behind Syria.
(Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Katie Nguyen.
Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm
of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts,
global land and property rights, modern slavery and human
trafficking, women's rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org
to see more stories)