SARANDO GANDA, Niger, 5 September 2012 – In Sarando Ganda, a village along the Niger River on the outskirts of Niamey, many of the mud-brick houses have collapsed or are severely damaged, leaving 70 per cent of the population homeless. Report by Shushan Mebrahtu
UNICEF reports on a rash of floods that have struck the Niger, which has been grappling with an ongoing nutrition crisis and an outbreak of cholera.
A school hosts hundreds of people displaced by the waters. In one dark classroom, children and women sit on mats, sharing the small space. The schoolrooms are filled with mattresses, chairs, tables and other meagre possessions of displaced households.
Heavy rains take a heavy toll
Heavy rains over the past few weeks in the Niger have inundated both homes and food crops. The waters have claimed 52 lives and affected nearly 400,000 persons nationwide. Families affected by the floods have temporarily taken shelter in nearby schools, such as the one in Sarando Ganda, in churches, mosques, relatives’ houses.
Areas along the Niger River have been the most affected. In villages such as Sarando Ganda, surrounded by floodwaters, access is now only possible by boat.
The floods have muted optimism for the upcoming harvest season. In Sarando Ganda, entire vegetable and fruit fields, which normally provide year-round supplies to markets in Niamey, are submerged in water, leaving granaries empty.
“We have never seen a catastrophic flooding like this,” says Abdurhaman Karimou, 62, a lifetime resident of Sarando Ganda who has lost his home, five granaries and other properties.
“We lost all our crops. There is nothing to eat here. It is very difficult for children,” says Sarando Ganda village chief Seyni Hamadou Sani. “Children are particularly exposed to diarrhoea and malaria. In one week, we had 53 cases of malaria. We evacuated them to the clinics in [nearby villages] Boubon and Koumba by boat for treatment.”
Mr. Sani cautions that, if immediate food assistance is not provided, children already vulnerable to diarrhoea and malaria will become malnourished.
“These are brave and hardworking people, but when I see them in a dire situation, I feel bad,” says UNICEF Niger Supply Assistant Hamadou Tinni. “Being near the water was the advantage of the village, as it helps to grow different types of vegetables and crops throughout the year. But now they have nothing, no harvest, no source of income.”
Adamou Zibo is a young father who supports his family with the income he generates from selling vegetables. When the floods hit, he lost his home and crops. “We don’t have any security here. We all want to go back to our homes and farms, but we don’t know when,” he explains.
Before the floods hit, the Niger had been faced with the challenges of ongoing food crisis and managing a stream of refugees and internally displaced persons.
- UNICEF and partners estimate that 394,000 children under 5 will need treatment for severe acute malnutrition this year.
- Refugees continue to arrive in the Niger, fleeing conflict in Mali. So far, more than 57,000 refugees and internally displaced persons have settled in various parts of the country, including in the areas worst affected by the food crisis.
As the rainy season has unfolded, a cholera epidemic has affected many parts of the country, particularly villages along the Niger River in Tillaberi region, one of the hardest hit by the food crisis.
And the epidemic continues to spread. A total of 3,671 cases and 80 deaths have been reported in the past few months. Concerns are growing that the current floods may worsen the spread.
Help continues to arrive
As the Niger battles the severest floods it has seen in years, UNICEF, in coordination with its partners, is providing immediate relief assistance to meet the urgent needs of flood victims. In Dosso region, the hardest hit by the floods, with more than 60,000 people affected and more than 10,000 houses destroyed, UNICEF has distributed blankets, plastic sheets, cooking items, mosquito nets, such hygiene-related supplies as soaps and buckets and other life-saving supplies. In Sarando Ganda, water purification tablets have been distributed to protect families and children from water-borne diseases.
But more needs to be done in the coming weeks and months to continue providing families with supplies and shelter, and to restore destroyed and damaged schools.
UNICEF is working with the Government of the Niger and partners to identify and prioritize needs, and to order life-saving supplies to continue assisting communities affected by the floods. UNICEF and its partners are calling on the international community to mobilize more resources to help people recover and to restore their self-sufficiency.
In the Niger, the rainy season is not over yet – nor is the fear of more flooding.