More than 240 000 people in Niger’s Diffa region – more than a third of the total regional population – have been booted from their homes by Boko Haram in the past three years, according to the United Nations.
Residents have been fleeing the area since the June 3 attacks by Boko Haram insurgents, a senior United Nations official said on Tuesday.
According to Viviane Van Steirteghem, representative of the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) in Niger, many have been settling along Route Nationale 01, the main road crossing the region.
“After June 3, the sites along that road had received an additional 60 000 to 70 000 people, resulting in increased pressure on water resources,” said Van Steirteghem.
The newcomers, settling in three of the main sites, had arrived with their families and their cattle.
Those sites had initially been quite homogeneous in terms of linguistic groups and occupations of the inhabitants, but this was no longer the case with the newcomers exacerbating current tensions.
Van Steirteghem, who visited Diffa twice in the past 14 days, said Unicef’s assistance focused on the coordination of the water response, initially water trucking and now drilling, as people were expected to settle on the sites for quite some time.
In Bosso, women and children make up the majority at the displaced persons’ sites.
Cases of measles have been reported despite a massive vaccination campaign in December 2015 and with the arrival of the rainy season, and the refugees living in temporary housing, they were now increasingly vulnerable.
An increase in diarrhoeal diseases and respiratory tract diseases was feared, as well as cases of importation of cholera, for which preparedness was difficult to operationalise in the current conditions, warned Van Steirteghem.
Malaria was also a corollary of the rainy season, and with the health ministry and the support of a number of non-governmental organisation partners, Unicef was planning a massive distribution of mosquito nets to help families protect themselves.
Women going to get water at night were very vulnerable to gender-based violence and Unicef was preparing messaging to help them strategise and go in groups to avoid being targeted.
Some children had arrived unaccompanied, with many traumatised. Protection services were being offered to allow children to express what they felt and relieve some of their stress.
The school year had just finished and all the children would be able to take their examinations in the neighbouring town.
Unicef was preparing for the next school year, taking into account the increase in the number of children.
Van Steirteghem said that the appeal for the Diffa crisis was 25% funded out of a required $74 million.