This is the Ouallam district, one of the hottest places in Niger, in one of the hottest countries in Africa, where it rarely and rarely rains, but where fragmented communities can find refuge from the increasing acts of violence and terrorist activity that has plagued the region affected.
Ouallam and two other neighboring districts in northern Niger are currently home to some 28,000 people who have fled their homes due to violence, including acts of terrorism, in the unstable wider Sahel region of Africa. About 8,000 have fled neighboring Mali to the north as refugees and a further 20,000 have been displaced from 18 nearby towns and cities.
One of them is Zakou Siddo, a teacher who fled from the village of Mogodiougou, about 80 kilometers from Ouallam.
†Twelve people were killed when my village was attacked on November 14, 2020. Livestock was stolen and our grain warehouses and some houses were set on fire,” adding that “we then decided to flee to Ouallam, which is considered safe.”
In Ouallam, Mr Siddou joined other displaced communities from across the region, who left villages and towns empty and schools unattended. Many children had not been to class since 2017.
And they met refugees from Mali, including Aminata Walet Issafeitane, chair of a Women’s Refugee Committee in Ouallam, who fled her homeland ten years ago.
She tells a similar story about theft and violence. “We are a nomadic and pastoral people and our fate was changed when armed groups stole our livestock†
Like many refugees and displaced persons, her community experienced unprecedented changes. “We have transformed ourselves into sedentary people; we are trying to adapt despite the severe drought and lack of water that prevents us from growing food; the few animals we have now cannot find pasture. As a result, we all suffer from a lack of food.”
Across Niger, about 80 percent of Niger’s 25 million residents depend on agriculture for their survival.
Microcosm of challenges facing Niger
Ouallam and its surrounding districts are a microcosm of the challenges facing Niger, a landlocked West African country where, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), some 264,000 Nigerians are internally displaced due to a range of factors, including the deteriorating security and impact of changing climatic conditions, as well as overgrazing and deforestation.
UNHCR says there are also more than 250,000 refugees from neighboring countries in Niger. In March 2022 alone, UN partners reported that more than 17,600 people had been displaced to Niger, mostly Nigerien returning home, but also Malian refugees.
UN agencies and their partners provide a range of humanitarian and development assistance across Niger. It is estimated that 6.8 million people are chronically food insecure and do not get enough to eat, year after year. Low rainfall and attacks in agricultural production areas have again combined to reduce and limit the amount of food grown by farmers.
Despite the combination of crises, the 2022 humanitarian response plan for Niger is only 8.7 percent funded.
‘Spokesperson’ for the displaced persons
The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, visited displaced persons and refugees from Mali in Ouallam, to show his and the UN’s solidarity with those who have been displaced from their homes.
Mr Guterres spoke to them directly and said he would do everything he could to support improvements in their lives. †I will be your spokesperson and will demand that the international community not only provide the humanitarian aid you need, but also support developmentbecause it is with education, health care and job creation that terrorism can be defeated.”
And he warned that “there are terrorists who say they are acting in the name of God; it’s a false claim”, adding that “all the sacred texts of Islam contain a condemnation of violence and any war waged by one Muslim against another Muslim.”
He again appealed to the international community to support Niger, calling it “a democratic country with good governance”, but a country “not equipped enough” to fight terrorism.