Boko Haram militants (Photo: AP)
Nearly 300,000 people, more than half of them children, have fled their homes in northeast Nigeria since May last year because of violence linked to radical Islamist group Boko Haram, the United Nations said on Thursday.
Three states in the region have been under emergency rule since last May 14, when the military launched a massive offensive to stamp out the insurgency, which has killed thousands since 2009.
Credible figures, including for casualties, have been difficult to obtain, as waves of attacks across a swathe of remote territory have made it impossible for most rescue agencies to operate.
But the UN's humanitarian office, OCHA, said a total of 290,002 people have been internally displaced in the three states under emergency rule -- Adamawa, Borno and Yobe -- as of January 1, 2014.
The OCHA said the aggregated figures were "verified and conservative estimates" based on reports from humanitarian, development and relief agencies working in Nigeria.
The population in Borno -- the epicentre of the conflict and where Boko Haram was founded more than a decade ago -- has been the hardest-hit, with 189,318 displaced.
In Yobe, the figure was 71,491, and in Adamawa, 29,193.
Citing figures provided by Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency, the UN said 51 percent of those displaced were children.
The OCHA said that providing assistance to those affected has been a challenge because of the continuing unrest.
The UN has not collated figures for those displaced in 2014 but the violence has continued unabated.
But the International Red Cross said on February 6 that from August last year to the end of January, it had helped provide more than 18,000 people in Borno with shelter and essentials, including food.
More than 300 people have been killed already this year, including 43 students who were slaughtered while they slept at a secondary school in Yobe on Tuesday.
In Adamawa late on Wednesday, hundreds of suspected militant fighters besieged a town, destroying homes and businesses with heavy weaponry and explosives.