By Gwladys Fouche
OSLO (Reuters) - Aid agencies must get food to close to 3 million people by July to avert a famine in Africa's Lake Chad region caused by drought, chronic poverty and Islamist insurgents Boko Haram, the United Nations said on Friday as it launched a funding appeal.
International donors at a conference in Oslo pledged $672 million for the next three years, $457 million of which was for 2017, Norway's foreign minister said. It was not clear whether that was all new money or had already been earmarked previously.
The United Nations says it needs $1.5 billion in humanitarian aid for the region this year.
The presence of Boko Haram militants has prevented farmers from planting crops or accessing Lake Chad to water their animals. Fishermen have also been prevented from accessing the lake which is shared between Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria and Chad, aid experts say.
Boko Haram militants have killed around 15,000 people and forced more than 2 million from their homes during a seven-year insurgency.
Despite having been pushed out of the vast swathes of territory they controlled in 2014, their attacks and the counter operations by Nigerian authorities still disrupt vital economic activity, officials say.
The most urgent need is to reach 2.8 million people with rice or sorghum, or cash to buy supplies, by July, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said.
"We are in the lean season and people's supplies are depleted. We need to avoid a famine," Abdou Dieng, the WFP's country director for West and Central Africa, told Reuters.
Overall 10.7 million people - roughly 2 out of 3 inhabitants - need humanitarian help such as food, water, education or protection, the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.
Half a million children aged under five are suffering from severe acute malnutrition.
"One in five could die and the others could suffer severe long-term consequences, such as stunting," Manuel Fontaine, the U.N. children's fund UNICEF's head of emergency programs, told Reuters.
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)