UN Security Council envoys on Friday vowed to turn the spotlight on a "neglected crisis" as they began a mission to the Lake Chad region, where hunger, poverty and a Boko Haram insurgency have triggered a major humanitarian emergency.
Straddling Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger, the region's problems are also exacerbated by poor governance and climate change.
The 15 ambassadors from the UN's top decision-making body began their mission in Cameroon, seeking to draw global attention to the emergency affecting 21 million people.
"We came in order to show that this will no longer be a neglected crisis," said Matthew Rycroft, Britain's envoy to the UN.
"It is such a large crisis, we are here to shine a spotlight and to raise the attention of the world on your country," he said.
Francois Delattre, France's permanent representative to the UN, said the Lake Chad region had long been ignored by the international community.
"This mistake, which is also an injustice, is now being rectified by the UN Security Council's visit to the region," Delattre told Cameroon's state-owned television channel CRTV after meeting President Paul Biya.
After Cameroon, the envoys will also visit camps in northeast Nigeria sheltering some of the 2.3 million people displaced in the region, as well as N'Djamena in Chad and Niamey in Niger.
The visit began a week after UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres set off alarm bells over the threat of famine in northeast Nigeria, the epicentre of the Boko Haram conflict.
The United Nations is seeking $1.5 billion in funding for 2017 for the Lake Chad region -- almost half of which is needed for northeast Nigeria, where 5.1 million people face acute food shortages.
- 'Broken lives' -
Some areas of northern Cameroon also face severe shortages, as repeated Boko Haram attacks in the region have forced some 200,000 people, mainly farmers and herdsmen, to flee their villages.
At least seven out of 10 farmers in Cameroon's Far North region have been forced to abandon their fields, the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) says.
When they launch attacks, the jihadists frequently kill farmers and steal their livestock and grain, which they either hoard for their own consumption or sell for a profit, said a local agriculture official in northern Cameroon Raymond Haman Dawai.
Some 1,425 Cameroonian farmers have seen their livestock either stolen or killed since 2012, a local survey shows.
"Their lives are now broken. Hunger has set in now that farmers can't go to their fields," a government official said on condition of anonymity.
Boko Haram's violence has also made fishing on Lake Chad extremely difficult.
"Even if the crisis ended today, it would take time for people to get back on their feet," the official said.
Fourteen donor countries last week pledged $672 million in emergency aid for people threatened by famine after eight years of Boko Haram violence.
While the sum is just a fraction of what is needed, the UN was nonetheless optimistic its target would ultimately be met.