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Niger: Refugee situation critical as rainy season approaches

1 June 2012: The humanitarian situation in Mali and bordering countries is expected to get worse before it gets better, according to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) providing emergency assistance to refugees in the region.

In Niger, Plan is responding near the Malian border to the needs of approximately 14,000 displaced people, many of them women and children.

Plan is present in 2 refugee camps – Mangaizi and new camp Ayourou, which is being set up at the moment.

The first refugees are being transported to Ayourou this week, and the camp is designed to eventually cater for around 10,000 people from the spontaneous refugee sites in the area.
At present, facilities there are available for 1,000 refugees. Plan is distributing food, providing drinking water to refugees and building hundreds of latrines.

Rain fears

Rheal Drisdelle, Plan Niger country director, said: “Seeing the new camp yesterday I was very impressed; food was being distributed, water bladders were being set up, 170 tents had been set up and more were going up while we were there, a registration centre was functioning and medical support was being given.

“People are desperate – refugees in sites nearby were expressing to us their fears that the rains could come and isolate them from the services being provided by Plan unless they were moved quickly to the camps. At the moment the camp can cater for around 1,000 people, but it’s a start and it’s very encouraging.”

Refugees living in informal sites at Gaoudel, M’Beidou, Tinfagatt and Ntadadab will be moved to the new camp by the UNHCR, in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The rainy season begins in July in the Sahel region across Niger and Burkina Faso – making transport and thus food distribution much more difficult.

Race against time

Drisdelle describes the situation as “critical” in the race against time to get facilities in place before the rains. Plan is constructing as many latrines and showers as possible in the 2 camps before next month.

In certain areas in the region, cases of cholera have been reported for the last 12 months. Authorities have been unable to locate the source - although all cases have been contained.
Drisdelle says the government of Niger is extremely supportive of both of the refugee and food crisis.

Further refugees are expected to arrive in coming weeks and NGOs expect them to be in Niger for 2 to 3 years before they can return home. Up to 13,000 refugees are expected to be living in Ayourou by the end of this year.

“We have got funding but getting continued funding is the big issue,” said Drisdelle. “We think the refugees will be with us for 2 to 3 years before this is resolved and we fear other waves of people coming in the next few weeks and months. This situation has been so sudden and we don’t know what turn it will take next. But we expect it to get worse before it gets better.”

Media enquiries:

For media enquiries, contact Jane Labous, press officer for East and West Africa regions, jane.labous@plan-international.org, or Florence Cisse, Regional Media Specialist, +221 33 869 74 30, florence.cisse@plan-international.org

Notes to editors:

  • Across the Sahel, millions of people were already vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition because of repeated poor harvests. Recent political instability and violence has only increased that risk. Plan has been working with partners to develop a coordinated response to the food crisis in Burkina Faso, Niger, Cameroon, Mali and Senegal and the refugee and internally displaced person crisis in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali.
  • For many years, Plan has developed programmes to raise the levels of food security and independence for poor families in the Sahel region. With education, training, and savings to boost livelihoods, families have become more resilient. This crisis is extreme; immediate assistance is needed to prevent long-term damage to the economic stability and needless deaths.
  • Poor children under 5 are particularly vulnerable to the effects of severe acute malnutrition - which include death and long-term physical, mental and emotional developmental disabilities. Plan’s emergency response is developed in consultation with and focusing upon children, pregnant and/or lactating women to improve their immediate and long-term nutrition and food security.
  • Plan is responding across the Sahel with needed relief items, health, education and child protection programmes.