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Niger: New influx of people displaced by violence in north-eastern Nigeria

By International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
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GENEVA, Switzerland, October 2, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- The conflict in north-eastern Nigeria continues to afflict the Diffa area, in easternmost Niger. Over the past few weeks, thousands of people fleeing fighting between the Nigerian army and armed groups have arrived in Diffa, seeking security.

"This is the biggest population movement we've seen in many months," said Loukas Petridis, head of the ICRC delegation in Niger. The displaced, mostly women and children, arrived from Bama, Baga, Doron Baga and Kaya Koura, where recent fighting pitted Nigeria's army against armed groups. "They have lost everything and are entirely dependent on the willingness of the communities hosting them to help them out, and on aid provided by humanitarian organizations," explained Mr Petridis.

Emergency relief for displaced people and residents

Many of the displaced are living in Diffa in serious distress. "All their belongings were looted or went up in flames along with their houses during the fighting," said Marc Fumeaux, an ICRC expert on economic security.

In Diffa, some people had to settle at the edge of the city in makeshift shelters made of canvas or straw. The lucky ones were taken in by host families that were already struggling to fend for themselves. "They urgently need food and essential supplies," said Mr Fumeaux, who is also concerned about the situation of residents playing host to the displaced.

To respond to the urgent needs of displaced people and relieve needy resident families, the ICRC and the Red Cross Society of Niger have just delivered food to more than 2,000 people (274 households of displaced people and 65 of residents) in Diffa. In addition, 203 households were given blankets, tarpaulins, mosquito nets, sleeping mats, clothing and kitchen utensils.

Aid for displaced people on Lake Chad islands

Many displaced people have also taken refuge on islands in Lake Chad. The islands, which in normal times play host to seasonal fishermen and merchants, have seen their population increase tenfold with the massive influx of people uprooted by fighting. "There is very little drinking water or health care, and few sanitary facilities, available to the people displaced there and the residents. With rising water levels, reaching these remote islands is a real logistical challenge, and the lack of security is preventing many humanitarian organizations from going there," said Yssouf Koné, head of the ICRC sub-delegation in Diffa.

Since May, the ICRC and the Red Cross Society of Niger have provided food aid for over 3,500 people on the islands of Koita Mota, Gadira, Karamga and Toumboun Boka. "Our staff are there right now, making new assessments," said Mr Koné.

Access to water and health care

In the town of N'gouba, 80 kilometres from Diffa, the ICRC has just upgraded a high-capacity borehole that will provide water for some 12,000 people in Bosso and Toumour as well as N'gouba. "In this area, access to water is a vitally important issue," said Tiémoko Ouattara, an ICRC water specialist. "Unless clean drinking water is available, people have no other choice but to drink pond water despite the serious risks to health." Since the onset of the crisis in May 2013, the ICRC has sunk 13 new handpump-equipped boreholes, built one new concrete well and upgraded nine other concrete wells with the aim of improving access to water for displaced people and residents in the Diffa, Bosso and Mainé Soroa departments. In addition, in Boulangou Yakou, about 12 kilometres from Diffa, it overhauled a small drinking water supply line equipped with two tap stands and a watering trough for animals.

For the fourth time, the ICRC donated medicines and medical supplies to the regional hospital in Diffa. In Bosso, where many displaced people have gathered, a partnership was set up between the ICRC and the town's general health-care centre. The ICRC recently delivered medicines and medical supplies to the centre for the first time. The aim is to give the health-care facility the means to better care for sick or injured displaced people or residents.

The ICRC is very concerned about the influx of displaced people into the Diffa area. "The possible deterioration of the security situation in the north-east of Nigeria is a concern, because the result could be that even more people will be driven to flee, towards Niger in particular," said Mr Petridis. "Together with other components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, we are preparing to cope with an even more difficult humanitarian situation in the Diffa area."