NIGER: Floods wreak havoc across the country

Friday, August 24, 2007

Large-scale flooding has hit seven of Niger’s eight regions, affecting close to 13,000 people across the country – some of whom may be inaccessible to aid organisations, according to the Nigerien government.

“The situation is serious,” said Hamani Harouna, coordinator of Niger’s National Early Warning System for food crises and floods.

Since mid-July, rains have flooded at least 36 villages, destroyed close to 1,300 homes and killed three people, Harouna said, adding that 12,979 people are known to have lost their homes, farmlands, or both. Of those, the Nigerien Red Cross estimates that 10,000 people are now homeless and living in schools, although the government does not have an official tally.

“There’s been a total destruction of crops,” added Seidou Bakari, coordinator of the government’s crisis response mechanism, Cellule Crises Alimentaires (CCA). He said fields have been flooded and motor pumps destroyed, and many families have lost their means of agricultural production. In the northern zone of Dabaga alone, 30 hectares of farmland has been destroyed, he said.

Access to the north

While many of the affected populations have received assistance, humanitarian actors say access to flood victims in the northern region of Agadez has been a problem.

In the remote town of Iférouane, 1000 km northeast of the capital, Niamey, close to 500 people have been affected by floods. But the route from Agadez to Iférouane is laced with mines, laid by anti-government fighters who have been attacking the Nigerien army since February in a campaign for more autonomy for one of Niger’s ethnic groups, the Touareg. The rebel group, called the National Movement for Justice (MNJ), claimed to have killed 17 soldiers on 21 August when two army vehicles reportedly hit landmines.

“It’s in the northern zone where there are difficulties transporting aid, because of the mines and the security situation in general,” the Early Warning System’s Harouna told IRIN.

Instead of delivering the aid directly to affected populations, the government will send food aid to the mayor of Iférouane, who will then deliver it locally, according to the CCA’s Bakari.

He said humanitarian actors are in discussions with local authorities in order to ensure a humanitarian corridor for those in need of assistance. In the meantime, “Iférouane is really cut off from the rest of Niger,” according to Chaouèye Abdou of the Nigerien Red Cross.


The government has already distributed 442 tonnes of cereals to more than 9,000 people, as well as 3,810 blankets and mosquito nets. But as of 23 August, five localities had not yet received assistance: Bazagaizé, Zaria, Magaria, Barwa and Mangaizé.

In south-central Maradi, one of the most recently hit cities (which houses the village of Zaria), heavy rains the night of 13 August left about 800 people homeless, according to the Nigerien Red Cross.

“We have absolutely nothing to give them on location,” said Abdou, head of the Red Cross in Maradi. “We are waiting for basic assistance, including food and mosquito nets.”

The government says it has the resources to help the affected populations because it built up food stocks after floods in 2006. “The situation is under control,” Bakari said. “It’s just a matter of transporting the aid to the five localities,” which he said would be done in a matter of days.

The government is also distributing 50,000 CFA francs (US$103) per household to assist with reconstruction of destroyed homes. In this Sahelian country – considered the poorest in the world by the UN Human Development Index – many homes are made of straw or dried mud (commonly referred to as banco), which crumble under the rain or are carried away in strong winds.

According to Ali Bandiaré, president of the Nigerien Red Cross, the homeless can rebuild their homes themselves if given the materials, “but there’s a problem of finances. We’re trying to mobilise resources.”

Flooding has not yet reached last year’s levels, when rains affected 44,000 people, but “the numbers will certainly rise, because the rains won’t stop until September,” Bandiaré said.

Source: IRIN