ABUJA, Nigeria, June 23 (UPI) -- Nearly 200 people in Nigeria who fled violence from militant Islamist group Boko Haram have starved to death in the northeastern town of Bama within the past month.
The town in Nigeria's Borno state has long been a target of Boko Haram assaults. The town was seized by the militant group from September 2014 until March 2015.
Médecins Sans Frontières -- also known as Doctors Without Borders or MSF -- said on Wednesday that it was able to access Bama for several hours on Tuesday. The humanitarian organization estimates 24,000 people, including 15,000 children, are sheltered in a camp on a hospital complex.
"A catastrophic humanitarian emergency is currently unfolding in a camp for internally displaced people in Borno state," MSF said in a statement. "During those few hours, the MSF medical team discovered a health crisis -- referring 16 severely malnourished children at immediate risk of death to the MSF in-patient therapeutic feeding center in Maiduguri. A rapid nutritional screening of more than 800 children found that 19 percent were suffering from severe acute malnutrition -- the deadliest form of malnutrition."
Boko Haram, which seeks to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria and has ruthlessly targeted civilians, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in March, becoming the Islamic State's West Africa Province.
In November, Boko Haram was designated the most deadly terrorist group in the world in the 2015 Global Terrorism Index by the Institute for Economics and Peace.
The MSF team found that 1,233 graves have been dug in the past year -- 480 of which for children. At least 188 people died in the camp, mostly from malnutrition and diarrhea.
Nearly 1,200 people, mostly women and children, were evacuated from the Bama area to the city of Maiduguri between June 13 and June 15. Of 466 children screened by MSF, 66 percent were emaciated, 39 percent of which had a severe form of malnutrition. MSF hospitalized 78 children at a feeding center that has a capacity of 86 beds.
"This is the first time MSF has been able to access Bama, but we already know the needs of the people there are beyond critical. We are treating malnourished children in medical facilities in Maiduguri and see the trauma on the faces of our patients who have witnessed and survived many horrors," Ghada Hatim, head of the MSF mission in Nigeria, said in a statement. "Bama is largely closed off. We have been told that people there, including children, have starved to death ... new graves are appearing on a daily basis. We were told on certain days more than 30 people were dying due to hunger and illness."