LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Women in the Lake Chad basin have been forced to sell sex to survive due to an insurgency by Boko Haram fighters that has driven millions from their homes and left children to starve, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Thursday.
The violence 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, ICRC says.
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.
(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)