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Niger: ‘Civilians and humanitarians are not a target and must be protected’, says OCHA Deputy Director of Operations

23 Feb 2021

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© OCHA

By Laura Fultang, OCHA Public Information Officer

The OCHA Deputy Director of the Operations and Advocacy Division, David Carden, visited Niger for the first time from 30 January to 4 February 2021.

Mr. Carden travelled to the town of Ouallam in the Tillabéri region, where he saw first-hand the effects of the deteriorating humanitarian situation on the lives of men, women and children.

“During my visit to Ouallam, I witnessed the level of suffering among people affected by this crisis,” he said. “I commend the efforts of the Government and humanitarian partners for collectively providing immediate, life-saving assistance to the people in need.”

Niger is facing a complex humanitarian emergency marked by continuous insecurity and violence against civilians by armed groups, as well as endemic poverty and the effects of climate change including seasonal floods and pockets of drought. The humanitarian situation is being further aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic, causing an exponential increase in needs. This year, the number of people in Niger who need humanitarian assistance and protection has increased from 2.3 million to 3.7 million.

In meetings with key stakeholders, including senior officials and ministers from the Government of Niger, local government authorities, and members of the international and humanitarian communities, Mr. Carden discussed ways to strengthen support for humanitarian response to the most vulnerable people in need. He advocated for greater protection of civilians and humanitarian workers, and improved access to affected communities.

“Civilians and humanitarians are not a target and must be protected. I urge all parties to respect human rights law and their obligation to spare persons who are not taking part in the violence,” Mr. Carden said.

The OCHA Deputy Director of Operations and Advocacy, David Carden, visited Niger for the first time from 30 January to 4 February 2021. © OCHA

While efforts are being made to ensure the protection of civilians, the issue remains a major concern in Niger. In 2020, some 287 security incidents involved aid workers, and 7 humanitarians were killed.

The humanitarian community in Niger continues to provide life-saving aid to the millions of people in need of help. About 2 million people are facing acute and chronic food insecurity because of recurring shocks and climatic change, while 457,200 children aged 6 months to 59 months are exposed to severe acute malnutrition. More than 50 per cent of children aged 7 to 16 years are out of school.

Stories of hope and resilience

Since 2020, more than 1 million people have been displaced countrywide. Persisting insecurity and the impact of floods led to some 530,000 people seeking refuge from violence in 2020, while more than 632,000 people became displaced following the destruction of their houses by torrential rainfall.

Most displaced people have been forced to flee multiple times and are unable to return home due to insecurity. Spikes of violence, particularly in the Diffa, Tillabéri, Maradi and Tahoua regions, are resulting in new displacements and increasing humanitarian needs.

Despite incredible hardship and daily challenges, the people affected are showing resilience and hope for a better life.

“My visit to Ouallam and the meetings we had with the local population convinced me of one thing – their remarkable resilience in the face of the adversity,” Mr. Carden said.

“While displaced persons continue to call for more assistance, their main concern is the need for income generating activities and vocational training that will enable them to rebuild their livelihoods. The desire for education is the greatest wish expressed by young girls and boys,” he added.

© OCHA

During his visit to Niger, Mr. Carden underscored that while humanitarian response is under way to address the increased needs, development interventions must be scaled up to support communities and enable them to quickly recover from shocks.

Within this framework, Mr. Carden visited a construction project being implemented by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) at the Briqueterie neighbourhood in Ouallam town. UNHCR is constructing 2,100 sturdy and safe houses in the Tillabéri region for internally displaced people, refugees and host communities. Through this project, UNHCR aims to enhance social cohesion within communities while also creating employment opportunities.

At the end of his six-day visit, Mr. Carden thanked donors for their generous contributions to Niger and called for more funding. The 2021 Niger Humanitarian Response Plan is requesting US$523.2 million, aiming to cover the acute needs of 2.1 million people.