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Niger: Massive food-aid project for people fleeing conflict in Nigeria

GENEVA, Switzerland, January 13, 2015/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- Violence and conflict in north-eastern Nigeria continue to affect both local residents and displaced people in Niger's far south-eastern Diffa region. Fighting just a few kilometres from the border has again forced thousands of people to flee and seek refuge in Diffa, where they are living in very difficult conditions.

Over the last three months, more than 25,000 people (residents, displaced people and returnees) have received assistance from the ICRC, working together with the Nigerian Red Cross Society, bringing to nearly 45,000 the number of recipients of food aid in 2014. A quarter of this total, some 10,800 people, also received essential household items (blankets, tarpaulins, mosquito nets, mats, clothes and kitchen utensils).

"In addition to caring for the weapon-wounded, we need urgently to provide food, drinking water and basic household items to the thousands of people – mostly women and children – who continue to flee the violence," explained Loukas Petridis, head of the ICRC delegation in Niger.

Food and material relief for displaced people and residents affected by the violence

The fighting and resulting insecurity have nearly emptied border towns and villages in north-eastern Nigeria, as people have fled to Niger's Diffa region. "Unlike previous waves of displaced, those arriving today seem determined to stay longer in Niger," said Yssouf Koné, head of the ICRC sub-delegation in Diffa. "This situation is preoccupying: the lasting presence of displaced people increases the pressure on host communities and resources in a region already asphyxiated by the drastic slowdown in trade with Nigeria and by a very poor agricultural and pastoral season.”

In the communes of Bosso (in particular on the Lake Chad islands), Diffa, Gueskérou, Chétimari, Kabléwa and N'guigmi, the ICRC and the Nigerian Red Cross are assisting displaced people who have fled the conflict, as well as some particularly vulnerable host communities.

Nearly 5,000 people, including more than 1,150 vulnerable residents, have just received food aid in N'guigmi and Kabléwa. Over 200 displaced households were also given essential household items.

In November and December 2014, a total of 20,952 people (comprising 2,856 displaced households and 541 vulnerable resident households) received emergency food aid. Moreover, 958 displaced households received essential material items.

The situation of displaced people on the islands of Lake Chad remains particularly worrying. Access is still a problem: logistical challenges and security considerations prevent humanitarian workers from reaching all of those in need. In late October 2014, the ICRC and the Nigerian Red Cross distributed food to 2,958 people on the islands of Atchabassonori, Kwikléwa, Ali Mandoula, Gadira, Kandahar Hamidou, Kandahar Yacine, and Kachimba.

Treating the wounded and improving access to health, water and sanitation

Over the last three months, around fifty people wounded in the fighting have been cared for at the Diffa regional hospital and the Bosso integrated health centre, two facilities supported by the ICRC. An ICRC surgical team spent three weeks at the Diffa hospital, which also received a fresh delivery of medical supplies, in order to boost the staff's technical skills and help treat the wounded. According to Dr Agali Baye, head of the ICRC's health programme in Niger, "the ICRC team mainly worked with the hospital surgical department on surgical techniques and patient monitoring in general and, more specifically, on the ICRC's guidelines regarding the management of gunshot wounds.”

In the Diffa region, the large number of displaced persons and very difficult living conditions increase the health risks associated with the spread of diseases with high epidemic potential. To minimize the risk of epidemics, the ICRC funded a measles vaccination campaign in the department of Bosso (Bandi, Baroua, Bosso, Dagaya and Toumour), where many of the displaced are living. In total, nearly 30,000 children from 9 months to 14 years old, mainly from displaced families, have been immunized against measles.

In Bosso, the proximity of the Yobe river, an arm of Lake Chad, leads to increased health risks. The water from boreholes in the area is particularly ferruginous and, put off by its reddish colour, people sometimes prefer to get their water directly from the lake, despite the health threats. After consultation with the local population and authorities, the ICRC reconnected the network supplying the city of Bosso to the N'Gouba borehole 13 kilometres away, which its engineers rehabilitated, and where the water is of much better quality. A water hygiene awareness campaign was then conducted followed by the distribution of 850 cans for the collection and storage of household water. Meanwhile, Garin Dogo in the commune of Gueskérou had no functioning modern water point, whereas the village population had doubled with the influx of displaced. The ICRC has just built a high-capacity water point there, equipped with a 30,000-litre tank and four standpipes. Around 6,000 people (displaced and residents alike) will thus have access to drinking water.

In total, over the past year, the ICRC has built or rehabilitated in the Diffa region: ten boreholes fitted with hand pumps, two artesian boreholes, a large-capacity water supply system and a well.

“We are very concerned about the number of displaced people arriving in recent weeks and above all their extreme vulnerability,” said Loukas Petridis. “Some are wounded, some are sick, some have lost contact with the rest of their family. Most of them have been directly affected by the violence and have lost their belongings and their livelihoods," he added. More than ever, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement remains mobilized and prepared to provide protection and assistance to people fleeing the conflict and violence in north-eastern Nigeria.

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