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Niger: Children resort to eating animal feed as fighting sees more refugees flood in

2 May 2012: As gunfire erupts in Mali's capital Bamako in the third day of clashes between the military junta and soldiers loyal to the ousted president, refugees from northern villages are still flooding across the border into Niger.

The crisis in Mali reaches far further than the bullets. Villages a few miles from the border are crowded with refugees. Children are being enlisted to help their families collect wood and animal dung. For some, it is the only way to survive as numbers swell and the food crisis worsens.

In Darbani, a village north of capital Niamey, women and children such as Boussoura Moumouni, 13, and her grandmother Bibata Soumana head into the bush every morning to collect animal droppings.

Surviving on animal feed

Boussoura can look forward to a meal of animal millet when she gets back. She will make CFA250 (approximately 40 pence) for one bag of droppings, enough to buy a small amount of food. Meanwhile, the village chief himself is feeding his family on one bowl of porridge a day.

He says: “Most of the children have dropped out of school because they have to follow their families to the nearby countries, or they have to follow their families to go and get their wood or animal faeces.

“Every morning you’ll find about 25 to 50 women going to the bush just to get animal dung. Sometimes they go with their children, because they want to have as many bags full of dung as possible. We have done everything to get them to leave their children behind but we have not been successful. In these vulnerable families the children have dropped out and followed their mothers every morning.”

Desperate food shortage

More than 3,000 refugees have arrived in the village of Goudel, 5 kilometres from the Malian border and a place normally inhabited by 850 people. Village chief Ashek Hammed says the increase in numbers means the food shortage is desperate – but local tradition means all newcomers will be fed.

“If you have a stranger who stays with you, you have to share your meals with him,” explains Hammed. “Consequently there is pressure because the food shortage is more pronounced. I’m very worried about the future. Not because of the actual situation, but because every day, people keep on coming.”

Malnourished children

Every day, refugees who have walked for 10 to 15 days arrive in Goudel. 100% of the children are malnourished, and many have illnesses such as whooping cough. Refugee Azahara Naziou came across the Malian border in April and is now living in a tent with 12 members of her family.

“I left my village because I was frightened. Bandits came with guns and stole many of our things, so we decided to run away. I came on foot with my children. Since we came here, we have been supported with food.  So I have been eating millet, beans and rice. We have been assisted with food, with blankets, with containers to carry water and with tents.”

Plan's emergency response

Children’s rights organisation Plan International has an emergency food response to refugees and villagers, providing food support, cereal grains, vegetables, mosquito nets and blankets.

Plan has also furnished the school with extra blackboards, seating mats and teaching guides to accommodate greater numbers. Teacher Adouramane Oumarou says one entire class is made up of refugee children, who have never been to school before.

“Before the arrival of the refugees, we had 134 pupils; now we have taken in 117 refugee children. It’s a situation that has created a lot of enthusiasm amongst the pupils. We wish that the school continues in good conditions, above all with the support of our partner Plan Niger.”

In the last week, Plan has been asked by the UN to manage refugee camps in 2 locations in Niger. Plan expects to learn of a major grant from AusAid soon, and the response operations are moving ahead.

The organisation is distributing free food to targeted groups in these villages and in schools, filling up 25 cereal banks and offering nutritional advice to communities.

Note to editors:

  • Founded over 70 years ago, Plan is one of the oldest and largest children's development organisations in the world. We work in 50 developing countries across Africa (including 12 in West Africa), Asia and the Americas to promote child rights and lift millions of children out of poverty.
  • The organisation works with more than 58,000 communities, covering a population of 56 million children

Media enquiries:
For media enquiries, high res images, video, audio, case studies and interviews, contact: Jane Labous, press officer for East and West Africa regions, Plan International Headquarters (UK) Email: jane.labous@plan-international.org