ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria said on Monday that aid agencies, including the United Nations, were exaggerating the levels of hunger in the strife-torn northeast to get more funding from international donors.
In the last few months, Boko Haram insurgents, who have killed 15,000 people and displaced two million since 2009, have been driven back from an area the size of Belgium, revealing thousands of people that aid agencies say are near starvation.
President Muhammadu Buhari's spokesman said "hyperbolic claims" were being made by, among others, U.N. agencies about the region, where the United Nations says some 75,000 children are at risk of starving to death in the next few months.
"We are concerned about the blatant attempts to whip up a nonexistent fear of mass starvation by some aid agencies, a type of hype that does not provide solution to the situation on the ground but more to do with calculations for operations financing locally and abroad," an emailed statement from Garba Shehu said.
"In a recent instance, one arm of the United Nations screamed that 100,000 people will die due to starvation next year. A different group says a million will die," he said.
On Friday, the U.N. said it had doubled its humanitarian funding appeal for northeast Nigeria to $1 billion to reach nearly 7 million people it said needed life-saving help.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has worked out an aid plan "in close cooperation with the government", its deputy humanitarian coordinator Peter Lundberg said on Monday.
"The reality is that if we don't receive the funding we require many thousands of people will die," he said.
Shehu said government agencies were distributing food, deploying medical teams and providing education for children in camps for people who had fled their homes, noting that they would continue to work closely with international aid agencies.
Nigeria has Africa's largest economy but is grappling with its first recession in 25 years as oil prices fall. Buhari's administration has been criticized in the media for its handling of the economy and needing aid despite its oil wealth.
(Reporting by Felix Onuah; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Louise Ireland)