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At a glance: Niger

In Niger, refugees from Mali are assisted with clean drinking water

VIDEO: Watch the UNICEF public service announcement urging donors to assist crisis-affected children in the Sahel region of Africa.  Watch in RealPlayer


By Shushan Mebrahtu

MANGAIZÉ, Niger, 22 March 2012 – For the displaced families in the Mangaizé settlement site, located in a dry, empty stretch of the Sahel, access to clean drinking water is a matter of survival. Over 35,000 refugees and returnees have come to Niger seeking safety from the ongoing fighting in northern Mali.

Their displacement is just one of several emergencies in the Sahel region. A food and nutrition crisis has also emerged, threatening an estimated 10 million people in areas of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, Cameroon, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal. Across Niger, more than 6 million people face food shortages, and nearly 394,000 children under age 5 are at risk of severe malnutrition. And the long journey out of Mali has left many refugee children weak and increasingly vulnerable to malnutrition and disease.

But thanks to the regular distribution of drinking water by UNICEF and its partners, these displaced families are being protected from waterborne diseases, which in turn helps protect them from malnutrition.  

© UNICEF Niger/2012/Mebrahtu
Mariama and her four children fled conflict in Mali, travelling for six days on foot and by donkey cart before reaching Mangaizé, Niger.

Compounded concerns

Mariama has lived at the site for more than two months with her husband and four children. When she first arrived in Mangaizé, in Tillabery Region, one of the regions hardest-hit by last year’s poor harvests, she had to draw water from the wells in nearby villages. The influx of displaced people has increased demand for food and water, as well as essential services such as access to health, protection and sanitation facilities.

Fetching water from the wells is a task that often falls to girls and women, taking up time that could otherwise be spent on life-saving practices such as exclusive breastfeeding or acquiring supplementary foods for their families.

Even more of a concern is the quality of the well water, which is often contaminated. After drinking water from the wells, Mariama’s youngest son, like many other children in the camp, suffered from diarrhoea – the second most common cause of death among children under age 5 worldwide.

© UNICEF Niger/2012/Quarmyne
Refugees in Mangaizé in the Tillabery Region of Niger draw water from a UNICEF-provided source.

UNICEF is also strengthening the capacity of nutrition screening and treatment centres, and is increasing the availability of clean water and sanitation facilities in therapeutic feeding centres.

 “We know that access to clean water and adequate nutrition are crucial in addressing malnutrition,” said UNICEF Nutrition Manager Eric Alain Ategbo. “Promoting good hygiene and sanitation practices in health centres and in communities are key and cost-effective interventions to end child malnutrition.”

Addressing wider safe water needs

Like other sub-Saharan countries, Niger is not on track to reaching the Millennium Development Goal target of halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015. Though half of the population has improved water sources, the rural populations lag behind.

© UNICEF Niger/2012/Therrien
Refugees in Mangaizé in the Tillabery Region of Niger draw water from a UNICEF-provided source.

While dealing with ongoing food insecurity, malnutrition and displacement emergencies, UNICEF is also working with the government and local communities to install improved water sources and to set up sustainable water maintenance systems in five regions of the country. These programmes support a community-based water management model that encourages the participation of women on water management boards. The approach has shown to be successful, not only in ensuring sustainability and ownership but also in empowering women as well.  

UNICEF requires US$1.2 million to continue its work improving access to water and sanitation in Niger.



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