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Niger: Thousands affected by floods face the risk of waterborne diseases

25 Sep 2020


Belko Idi wades through stagnant water to enter his house in Kirkissoye, Niamey, Niger, 4 September 2020. Credit: OCHA/Abdoulaye Hamani

By Laura Fultang, OCHA Public Information Officer

Earlier this month in the Kirkissoye neighbourhood of Niamey, the capital city of Niger, 54-year-old Belko Idi watched in horror as the houses around his began to collapse due to the pounding rain.

“Most of the houses in this area were built out of clay and grass straws. They were not sturdy enough to resist heavy rainfall, so we heard them collapse one after the other,” Mr. Idi said.
With his house completely flooded, he decided to relocate with his wife and five children to Dalwey village, his place of origin about 40 km away. He wanted to protect them from the risk of waterborne diseases and exposure to electrical shocks.

“At the onset of the floods, my neighbours and I hurriedly put bags of sand at the entrance of our homes to hinder water from entering, to no avail. Climate change is real; we had never experienced such an overflow of the Niger River before,” he said.

As it continues to grapple with the complexities of the COVID-19 pandemic, Niger has also been dealing with the impact of torrential rainfall and floods since July.

Houses along the riverbanks in the Kirkissoye neighbourhood are flooded due to the rise in water levels. Niamey, Niger, 4 September 2020. Credit: OCHA/Abdoulaye Hamani

According to the Government, more than 516,000 people in all seven regions of the country, including Niamey, have been affected by floods. Ongoing heavy rains have led to the loss of at least 69 lives thus far, with more than 39,000 houses damaged, farmlands swamped and thousands of livestock killed. Vital infrastructures including health care, water and sanitation facilities have been damaged and destroyed. The regions of Maradi, Agadez, Tillabéri and Niamey city are among the hardest hit.

In the Tillabéri region, Harouna Souley, a 65-year-old father of eight, fled to the Toula primary school (2 km from Tillabéri town) with his family after his house flooded. His house was located along the riverbanks and had a heightened risk of flooding. “Our house collapsed and we have lost personal belongings,” Mr. Souley said. “We only managed to flee with a few items.”

While most of the people affected by the floods have found refuge in public infrastructures – mostly in schools – others have integrated with host families. Their priority needs include food, clean drinking water, shelter, health care, hygiene and sanitation services.

According to a flood preparedness plan prepared by the Ministry of Humanitarian Action and Disaster Management and its partners, 250,000 people were likely to be affected by floods during the current rainy season (June to September). This number has been reached and doubled, while the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate.

The impact of climate change ensuing to a natural disaster is exposing the most vulnerable population to a myriad of protection and health risks. Women, girls and boys are at risk of gender-based violence, particularly internally displaced people living in communal shelters such as schools.

Women, girls and children are the most vulnerable group living at communal sites for displaced persons. Toula Primary School in the Tillabéri region, 11 September 2020. Credit: OCHA/Fajimata Abba Gana

The destruction or pollution of drinking-water facilities, limited access to health services and the relocation of disaster victims to areas with unhygienic conditions increase the risk of epidemics. More than 2,600 wells have collapsed, exposing the population to the risk of waterborne diseases, especially cholera, and an outbreak of malaria due to widespread contaminated and stagnant water.

In Niger, about 2 million people need food security assistance. The vulnerability of the already fragile population is further exacerbated by the loss of livelihoods. More than 15,000 hectares of farmland have been swamped, over 1,000 granaries damaged and over 15,000 ruminants killed. The quick response of the humanitarian community is enabled by the use of readily available pre-positioned supplies nationwide.

Since the onset of the crisis, the Government of Niger and aid organizations have been providing life-saving assistance to the survivors. The people affected have received food, shelter kits, water purification supplies, mosquito nets, medical and sanitation assistance. So far, 2,174 metric tons of food aid, 1,645 shelter kits and 8,432 non-food items kits have been distributed. Nevertheless, supplies are being depleted rapidly and more support, including from donors, is urgently needed.

While emergency response is under way, the Government’s medium- and long-term activities include set-up and implementation of a sanitation plan; creation of a committee to ensure disaster risk prevention and management; construction of dikes and desilting of rivers; and reinforcement of a law passed in 2013 prohibiting the construction of houses in flood-prone areas.

In order to bridge the funding shortfall due to increasing and competing needs, since January the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has allocated more than US$18.6 million to ensure emergency assistance to some 284,000 people affected by the persisting crisis in Niger. This funding also aims to cover increasing needs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

An additional $5 million has been allocated by the Emergency Relief Coordinator to provide critical life-saving aid to an estimated 182,000 people affected by floods, focusing on the identified priority needs and with a strong emphasis on women and girls, and people with disabilities.

So far, the joint 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan and COVID-19 response seeking US$516.1 million received $211.9 million – and is only 41.1 per cent funded. Immediate funding is urgently needed so that the gains achieved thus far are not jeopardized, and to provide timely assistance to the most vulnerable people.