WHD 2013

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

In drought-stricken Niger, the rain brought more despair than relief


by Laurent Duvillier, Regional Communication Specialist for West and Central Africa, UNICEF


In the humid and cold country where I come from, rain is an unpleasant and loyal companion of the every day life. Yet, it rarely causes as much despair and devastation as the torrential showers that have severely hit several areas across the Sahel over the past weeks.

One would think that in the drought-stricken Niger, long-awaited rainfalls would be welcome as a blessing. But they have turned out to be rather a curse, when pouring down several times a week. The resulting flash floods in different parts of this Sahelian country left about half a million people homeless and more than 80 dead.

Nearly 20 kilometers away from the capital city Niamey, the village Sangada Goro has become a little island, completely surrounded by floodwaters. The only way the UNICEF team could access the village was by boat. Mud-made houses have literally been washed away. Food crops have been destroyed. Grain banks have been demolished.

Nestled along the Niger River, Sarando Ganda usually produces abundantly fruit and vegetables to be sold on the markets in Niamey. This year, it won’t. The village may not even be able to feed its own children as the upcoming harvest has been threatened by the flooding.

“We lost all our crops,” says Sarando Ganda village chief Seyni Hamadou Sani. “There is nothing to eat here. It is very difficult for children. They are particularly exposed to diarrhea and malaria. In only one week, we had 53 cases of malaria.”

 As the rainy season has unfolded, many regions of the regions of Niger –especially communities along the river-- have been affected by a cholera outbreak, with 2.5 times more cases being reported than last year at the same period.

“The cholera emergency in Niger is adding additional burden to the on-going severe food and nutrition crisis in the Sahel,” said Guido Cornale, UNICEF Representative in Niger. “We must intensify our efforts to further prevent the propagation of this disease. (…) Rains and floods lead the disease to spread faster.”

Two weeks ago, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Office (ECHO) made available €600,000 in support of UNICEF’s emergency response to the cholera outbreak in Niger.  With this European emergency funding, UNICEF and its partners are urgently providing immediate relief assistance to the flood victims, such as plastic sheets, cooking items and mosquito nets in Dosso and water purification tablets in Sarando Ganda. Last week, more than 6,500 families affected by the floods in Niamey received each some cash and cereals but also  life-saving items such as  mosquito nets, soaps, tarpaulins, blankets, cooking sets or mats.

The flooding struck Niger while the country was already facing this year an unprecedented conjunction of disasters ---nutrition crisis, influx of Malian refugees and cholera outbreaks. As dark grey clouds continue gathering in the threatening sky, the village of Sarando Ganda is likely to remain inundated until the rainy season ends. Aid agencies and the government are now working together to ensure as many children as possible can go back to school normally, as the academic year has started this week.

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