This is Ouallam district, one of the hottest places in Niger, one of the hottest countries in Africa, where rain is rare and sparse but where crumbling communities can find refuge from the Increasing acts of violence and terrorism occur in the region.
Ouallam and two other neighboring counties in northern Niger are currently housing approximately 28,000 people who have been displaced by violence, including acts of terrorism, in Africa’s volatile broader Sahel region. About 8,000 people have fled as refugees from neighboring Mali to the north, and another 20,000 have been displaced from 18 nearby villages and towns.
One of them was Zakou Siddo, a teacher on the run from a village called Mogodiougou, about 80 kilometers from Ouallam.
“Twelve people were killed when my village was attacked on November 14, 2020. Cattle were stolen and our grain stores and some houses burned,” adding that “we then decided to flee to Ouallam, where it was supposed to be. is safe”.
In Ouallam, Mr. Siddou arrived with other displaced communities from all over the region, leaving empty villages and towns and schools unattended. Many children have not been to school since 2017.
UN News / Daniel Dickinson
And they met refugees from Mali, including Aminata Walet Issafeitane, chairwoman of a Refugee Commission for Women in Ouallam, and who had fled her birth country ten years earlier.
She tells a similar story about theft and violence. “We are a nomadic and pastoral people and Our fate was changed when armed groups stole our cattle. ”
Like many refugees and displaced people, her community faces unprecedented changes. “We have made ourselves sedentary; we are trying to adapt even though severe drought and lack of water keep us from growing food; some of the animals we have now can’t find grasslands. This left us all starving.”
Across Niger, about 80% of Niger’s 25 million people depend on agriculture to survive.
Microcosm of the challenges facing Niger
Ouallam and the surrounding counties are the microcosm of the challenges facing Niger, a landlocked West African country where, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR)UNHCR), some 264,000 Nigerians have been internally displaced due to a range of factors including degraded security and the effects of changing climate conditions as well as overgrazing and deforestation.
UNICEF Niger / Phillipe Kropf
UNHCR says there are also more than 250,000 refugees from neighboring countries in Niger. In March 2022 alone, the United Nations partners reported that more than 17,600 people were displaced to Niger, mainly Nigerians returning home, but also Malian refugees.
United Nations agencies and their partners are providing a wide range of humanitarian and development assistance throughout Niger. It is estimated that 6.8 million people are chronically food insecure and underfed every year. Low rainfall and attacks on agricultural production areas once again combine to reduce and limit the amount of food grown by farmers.
Despite the combination of crises, the 2022 humanitarian response plan for Niger is only 8.7% funded.
UN photo / Ekinder Debebe
‘Speaker’ for displaced people
The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, visited displaced people and refugees from Mali in Ouallam, to show his solidarity with the United Nations with those who have been evicted from their homes.
Speaking to them directly, Mr. Guterres said he would do everything he could to help improve their lives. “I will be your spokesperson and will ask the international community to provide not only the humanitarian aid you need but also development assistance.because it is through education, health care and job creation that terrorism can be defeated.”
And he warned that “there are terrorists who say they are acting in the name of God; that’s a false statement“, adding that” in all the sacred texts of Islam there is a condemnation of violence and any war waged by one Muslim against another. “
He again called on the international community to back Niger to call it “a democratic country with good governance”, but a country “insufficiently equipped” to fight terrorism.