LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The United Nations appealed on Thursday for $2 billion to help more than 20 million people across Africa's Sahel belt, where increasingly erratic weather and escalating violence have worsened widespread hunger and malnutrition.
Conflict, mainly in Nigeria and the Central African Republic, has uprooted 1.2 million people in the past year, taking the total number of people displaced to 2.8 million, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.
Those driven from their homes are seeking refuge in neighbouring countries including Chad, Niger and Cameroon, placing further strain on local communities which are already struggling to feed themselves, the United Nations said.
"The violence and conflict has a devastating effect... it is casting a shadow across the region," said Robert Piper, U.N. regional humanitarian coordinator for the Sahel, a semi-arid belt south of the Sahara Desert that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean eastward to the Red Sea.
Islamist militants Boko Haram have killed thousands of people and seized territory in northeastern Nigeria in a five-year insurgency, while the Central African Republic is plagued by civil war between Christian militia and mostly Muslim Seleka rebels who seized power in March 2013.
"With the chronic food insecurity and uncertain climate, the Sahel is continuing to look very fragile," Piper told the Thomson Reuters Foundation before the launch of the appeal in New York.
Climate change is the driving factor behind the growing number of vulnerable people across the region, he said, as increasingly unpredictable rainfall patterns wreak havoc on farmers and disrupt local food production.
An estimated 20.4 million people are short of food, almost 6 million children are malnourished and 15 million people are at risk of epidemics such as cholera and meningitis, the United Nations says.
Governments across the region are showing more financial responsibility in dealing with these chronic problems and addressing them as a political priority, Piper said.
Senegal, Mauritania and Niger last year joined The African Risk Capacity, a catastrophe insurance fund to insure against natural disasters, and received payments of $25 million last month to mitigate the effects of a severe drought.
"Countries are becoming more aware of how to manage risk..." Piper said, "and food security funding requirements are $200 million less this year than last, which shows governments are taking more financial burden than ever before."
Piper said there had been greater international interest in and support for the Sahel in recent years following a major food crisis in 2012, but he expressed concern about humanitarian funding for the arid region.
Emergency financing is under huge pressure because of the number of crises around the world, and the Sahel region faces donor fatigue because it is a regular recipient of aid, Piper said.
OCHA has appealed for $541 million in funding for Chad, $375.7 million each for Mali and Niger, and $264 million for Cameroon.
"International donors need more reassurance and signals that things are improving," Piper said.
Donors met 63 percent of the $1.95 billion U.N. appeal for Sahel last year, according to Piper.
(This version of the story fixes typo in paragraph 10)
Reporting By Kieran Guilbert; Editing by Tim Pearce