“It is a relief to receive some blankets and drinking water today so my children can be more comfortable and do not have to sleep on the dust anymore,” said Fatuma Mathala. Report by Shushan Mebrahtu and Seydou Amadou Oumarou. MANGAIZÉ, Niger,
Ms. Mathala, who is six months pregnant, and her four children, ages 2, 3, 4 and 6, travelled for days to reach a temporary settlement site in Mangaizé, a village in the Ouallam region, approximately 100 kilometres away from the Mali-Niger border.
“We left all our belongings behind. We have nothing left. And the situation here is dire. We are sleeping in the open with little food and water,” she said.
To date, more than 12,000 people – many of whom are women and children – have arrived in Niger as a result of the fighting between rebel Tuareg groups and government forces that began last month in the Azawad region of northern Mali. The displaced people seeking refuge include both Malians and Nigeriens who were living in Mali.
Help starts to arrive
The Mangaizé settlement site – stretched over an empty arid landscape – now hosts over 1,900 people. Hundreds of shelters made from sticks, colourful blankets, fabric and carpets are scattered on the site. They provide little protection from the sun, wind, dust or nighttime cold.
The influx of refugees comes on the heels of a looming nutrition crisis affecting Niger and other countries across the Sahel region. Most of those fleeing violence in Mali are staying in temporary sites in areas worst affected by the drought and poor harvests, prompting or exacerbating water and food shortages.
In the Ouallam region, 40 per cent of the population is already severely food insecure or at risk of falling to food insecurity.
In Sinegodar and Mangaizé, inhospitable desert areas where water is scarce, UNICEF is providing drinking water through water tanks and bladders.
“Our priority is to continue providing essential and life-saving resources, such as water and other supplies, to meet the immediate needs of the people at risk, in close collaboration with the Government and our partners,” said Guido Cornale, UNICEF Representative in Niger, who was part of UNICEF’s first team to arrive in Mangaizé to distribute water and other supplies to those displaced.
Children need special support
Many children are suffering from the trauma of the conflict and the loss of family members.
“I saw masked men forcing our door,” said Abdoulaye Abdourahmane, 11, recalling the horrors he experienced before fleeing Mali. “They killed my father, my mother and my sisters.”
Child protection issues are a priority for UNICEF, which will support psychosocial services and child-friendly spaces, which give children a safe place to play and resume a sense of normalcy.
UNICEF continues to mobilize support
UNICEF will also continue to distribute life-saving supplies and school-in-a-box kits in affected areas. A team of specialists is also working with local authorities and health centres to strengthen their capacity to address health and malnutrition issues facing children and lactating and pregnant women.
UNICEF and its partners are calling on the international community to increase the flow of life-sustaining supplies and services to those affected both by the conflict and by the emerging nutrition crisis.
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