OSLO More than seven million people risk starvation in Nigeria's insurgency-hit northeastern region and around Lake Chad, a senior U.N. official said on Wednesday ahead of a new funding appeal.
Famine has been ongoing since last year in parts of Nigeria where the government is fighting a seven-year long Boko Haram insurgency.
An international donor conference in Oslo on Friday will aim to raise a chunk of the $1.5 billion the United Nations says it needs to address deepening food insecurity in the region this year.
"They are living on the edge, barely getting by on one meal a day," Toby Lanzer, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for the Sahel, told Reuters. "My biggest concern today is starvation."
Earlier this week the United Nations said 1.4 million children were at risk of "imminent death" in famines in Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.
Lanzer said he was worried the Boko Haram insurgency would deter farmers from planting their crops after missing the last three planting seasons, and that the number of lives at risk could increase. He also expressed concerns the coming rainy season could harm vulnerable people.
"Hungry people without shelter when it rains die," he said.
Lanzer said the humanitarian response needed to go beyond food aid and include seeds, tools and fishing nets.
Lanzer said he hoped a total $500 million will have been pledged by the end of February, including this week's funding round.
Lanzer, who has also worked in South Sudan, Darfur and Chechnya, said it was difficult to estimate how many people would die from hunger in the next few months.
"If we were to lose another planting season, I dread to think how severe the crisis could get," he said.
Some 10.7 million people in northeastern Nigeria and around Lake Chad -- roughly two in every three people -- need humanitarian aid, according to the United Nations.
Boko Haram militants have killed about 15,000 people and forced more than 2 million from their homes, and still launch deadly attacks despite having been pushed out of the vast swathes of territory they controlled in 2014.
Lanzer cautioned that failure to address the deteriorating situation could encourage more Africans to try and flee to Europe.
(Editing by Richard Lough)