Dozens of people where killed yesterday when multiple suicide bombers detonated devises outside a camp sheltering displaced people in Borno State. Attacks on civilians sheltering in displacement sites are on the rise, worsening an already dire situation for people on the brink of famine in northeast Nigeria.

“Camps like the one attacked yesterday sheltering displaced women and children are being indiscriminately targeted. Towns we previously considered safe for civilians are also under attack,” said Ernest Mutanga, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)’s head of programmes in Nigeria. “As the government’s military offensive intensifies, armed groups seem to be looking for softer targets like places where civilians are sheltering.”

190 security incidents involving civilians were reported in July in northeast Nigeria. This was substantially more than the total combined for May and June. Also of note was an increase in the number of attacks on sites sheltering displaced civilians.

On 23 July, a suicide bomber killed three people and injured 17 others in a displacement (IDP) camp in Borno State. The same day another suspected female suicide bomber was shot dead by the military as she tried to climb a perimeter wall surrounding an IDP camp.

Five days earlier on 28 July, five people were killed and six wounded in Dikwa town when two suicide bombers detonated explosives in an area sheltering displaced families. Dikwa town was previously considered safe from the time the Nigerian military took control of it a year ago.

“Camps sheltering innocent families fleeing war should be places of refuge. But instead they are turning into death traps. Armed groups in this conflict are pushing people from one hell into another,” said Mutanga.

Insecurity is hampering the humanitarian response. For example, NRC staff had to temporarily suspend operations in Mamenti area of Maiduguri City in June because of threats from armed groups. Hundreds of people did not receive food, clean water and hygiene support as a result.

The arrival of the rainy season has worsened access to communities, already causing flooding in multiple areas. Heavy rains are preventing helicopters from landing, and cutting road access. NRC has had to have cranes accompany some truck deliveries of aid into displacement camps, as the small feeder roads are often flooded. This substantially increases the costs of aid delivery.

Northeast Nigeria is already experiencing a widespread food crisis, with food security experts forecasting a rise in the number of people facing crisis, emergency and famine conditions from 4.7 million to 5.2 million by the end of the month. This includes 50,000 people forecast to be affected by famine-like conditions.

“Parts of northeast Nigeria are already forecast to tip into famine. Any worsening of the crisis could be that tipping point,” warned Mutanga.

“We need to see the Nigerian government stepping up to protect civilians in displacement camps. It’s their primary responsibility,” said Mutanga. “However, law enforcement agencies must adhere to human rights laws while protecting people fleeing the conflict.”

The worsening situation in Nigeria comes as aid organisations prepare to mark World Humanitarian Day this week on 19 August, calling attention for better protection to civilians targeted in conflict.