AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery
Lagos - The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) could run out of funding in a few weeks to feed millions living on the brink of famine in Nigeria, four people familiar with the matter said, intensifying one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises.

In the north east, 4.7 million people, many of them refugees from the conflict with Islamist insurgency Boko Haram, need rations to survive, according to the WFP, one of the main aid groups handing out food. Many of those living in camps for displaced people say they barely get enough to eat.

“With the money they have, and if they won't cut rations, they can go only to May 18,” one person said, citing talks with the WFP, who asked to not be named because they were not authorised to speak to media.

The WFP was “reasonably certain” it would get enough funding to last until late June, the person added.

“All humanitarian crises globally are woefully underfunded and for WFP, Nigeria is in one of the worst situations for funding,” a WFP spokesperson said.

“We are trying to save lives. Over the next six months we need $207 million (R2.8billion) for Nigeria. The programme is 13 percent funded for 2017. It’s extremely low. Of the four countries facing famine, it is the least funded.”

The conflict with Islamist insurgency Boko Haram, which seeks to establish a caliphate in the north east, began in 2009 and shows no sign of ending. It has killed more than 20000 people and displaced more than two million.

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Nigeria’s north east is teetering on the brink of famine, aid organisations say, pointing to two years of missed crop harvests in what was once a breadbasket for the country, and the high likelihood of missing a third.

The approaching rainy season increases the risk of disease spreading, especially within camps for the displaced.

In a meeting on Monday with the WFP in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, donor countries and organisations, criticised the group for not having a satisfactory contingency plan if funding started to dry up, two of the people with knowledge of the talks said.

"We want people to understand this will work if it’s funded. We can avert the famine,” the spokesperson said.

The US Embassy in Abuja said the US government was working with its partners to address the issue. “Additional resources must be found urgently so that feeding does not stop,” it said