Niger: Existing resources are not enough to cope with thousands fleeing Nigeria

29 Jul 2014

26 June 2014, Diffa: Families fled their home in north-east Nigeria in fear of the militant group Boko Haram. They do not live in camps but are seeking refuge in local communities across the border. Most are desperate for food as their host communities don't always have enough for themselves. Credit: OCHA/Franck Kuwonu
The influx of refugees from Nigeria is putting strain on aid agencies and host communities.

The sun filters through the dust lifted by a child playing in the sandy courtyard. Rouké Amadou worries that she and her family might soon be forced from this compound, their home for the past few months.

Quietly and assuredly she gestures with her hand several times to make her point: “Whatever happens next, never will I return to my home town across the border in Nigeria.”

Rouké, like tens of thousands of others, fled her home in north-east Nigeria in fear of the militant group Boko Haram.

Rouké now lives in Diffa, a town in the south east of Niger. She has been living rent-free since her arrival. The land belongs to a local landlord. She and her extended family receive monthly food, basic health assistance and some money from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

“I have no reason to complain”, Rouké says.

More arrivals

She is worried a day will come when the landlord will want to develop and use his plot of land. New buildings are being built all around their dwelling. Rouké believes it’s just a matter of time before they are asked to leave and their makeshift homes are destroyed.

Since April 2013, over 50,000 people –-as many as the number of refugees from Mali living in Niger – have settled in Diffa, according to humanitarian organizations.

The first population movements from Nigeria were registered over a year ago but arrivals have dramatically increased this year, stretching the resources of humanitarian organizations. More than 24,000 new arrivals were recorded in the first six months of 2014.

 “They are living within local communities”, says Adizatou Assane, the regional manager for International Rescue Committee (IRC). “So far, we’ve been able to identify over 110 host communities.”

Communities overwhelmed

Host communities have their own share of challenges, including food insecurity because of recurrent failed crops.

“The last good harvest we had was five years ago, in 2009.” said the village chief in Ngelkolo, a village 35 kilometers away from Diffa, within walking distance from the Nigerian border.

This situation is universal across southeast Niger. About half of the population lives in poverty, and many people cannot afford more than one decent meal per day.

In addition to chronic food insecurity, parts of the region are still recovering from three floods over the past two years that caused an estimated US$ 20 million in damages.

Aid organizations pushed to their limits

Humanitarian organizations, including ICRC, World Food Programme (WFP) and International Organization for Migration (IOM) have been operational in the region for some time: they distribute food and seeds; provide basic healthcare; drinking water and shelter.

However, this new influx of refugees – estimated at about 1,000 per week – is pushing aid agencies to their limits, and is putting strain on limited local resources.

Aid organizations are concerned that the region will host approximately 100,000 refugees from Nigeria by the end of 2014.

Difficulty identifying priority needs

Mallam Idi lives with his wife and three kids in a thatched compound under a tree in Ngelkolo. Unlike Rouké, he is not anxious about his dwellings but he is increasingly concerned about food shortages.

“I would like to be able to feed my family on a regular basis,” he says. Presently, he is relying on the generosity of people living nearby. “They don’t have much either, you know?”

Mallam left Nigeria several months ago. He has never received any assistance from humanitarian organizations because he claims he and his family were never properly registered.

It is not uncommon to hear such stories. Identifying the needs of arrivals has proved challenging for aid organizations; the region of Diffa is five times bigger than Belgium and refugees and returnees are disbursed.

“The fact that refugees and returnees live in over 110 communities scattered all over the region has spread the assistance thin,” said ICRC’s Adizatou. “In addition, constant movements back and forth across the border make it difficult to keep track of people.”

The result is that a lot of people, like Mallam Idi, may fall through the cracks.

Significant funding needed

Overall, it is estimated that US$ 60 million is needed to respond to the crisis in Diffa in 2014.

Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF) has allocated US $5 million, but this only represents one tenth of what is needed.

Fode Ndiaye, Niger UN Humanitarian Coordinator, says: “While the money we have now got is just about 10% of what we would need, it will go a long way to saving the lives and restoring the dignity of the neediest.”

 “We anticipate difficult times ahead, when important financial resources will be needed to provide adequate assistance. But we want to take one step at a time by saving the lives of the most vulnerable.”