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Relief effort under way for flood-affected families in Northern Niger

© UNICEF/Niger/2009/Holtz
A boy looks at clean water flowing from one of the water systems set up by UNICEF at sites sheltering flood-affected populations.

Agadez, Niger, 17 September 2009 – Following unprecedented rainfall in the Northern region of Agadez in early September, parts of its main city, Agadez, as well as three other communes were severely affected – and in some cases, completely washed away – by a powerful gush of water. 

"We had never seen such floods" recalls 70 year-old Tahrit Adam, currently staying at one of the five primary schools where affected people have temporarily relocated in Agadez. "I can only remember of a similar disaster 40 years ago, but it certainly had not been to that extent."

She is one of the 80,000 people who have been affected by the floods (among which 40,000 are in the city of Agadez).

"It happened all of a sudden in the middle of the night. Water came into my house like a torrent. In a few seconds I had it up to my waist. I thought we were going to die. We have lost everything", remembers Fadima Ahmed, a 30 year-old mother of four, currently staying at one of the sites for flood-affected people in Agadez.

Rebuilding lives
While a majority of people have found shelter at their relatives’, eleven sites are currently sheltering flood-affected populations in Agadez: among these are five primary schools and one secondary school. However, four new sites have been identified and are being equipped with water and sanitation facilities, as well as shelters, by the Nigerien Government, UNICEF and other partners. Affected families are progressively being moved to these sites so they can benefit from adequate relief services there and, little by little, rebuild their lives.   

"We first moved to this site because it was situated on higher ground", says Fadima. "But we soon suffered from lack of water. We had to buy 20 litres of water as much as 500 FCFA (about US$1) from street vendors. It was too expensive and we could not afford it. Then five days ago, taps were installed on this site and we were able to get drinking water for free. We mostly use it for drinking and for personal hygiene".

In order to enable flood-affected people to access water, UNICEF has installed two 10 cubic-metre collapsible water tanks at one of the sites and is currently setting up water systems for the four camps identified for the temporary relocation of people.  

The raging waters destroyed the dyke protecting the town of Agadez, flooding entire sectors and wreaking havoc in the lives of several dwellers and their families.On11 September, the Nigerien Government called for international assistance.

Preventing epidemics
While no epidemics have been reported, diarrhoeal diseases and malaria cases are on the rise. Several thousands of children under five are particularly at risk of infectious diseases caused by improper water and sanitation. UNICEF is now coordinating with the Government, United Nations agencies and other partners to ensure that children and women receive access to basic services.

"It is UNICEF’s priority to ensure that essential services are available at the sites for affected people, in line with its Core Commitments for Children in Emergencies. This includes access to basic health, nutrition, potable water and sanitation, education, protection and psychosocial support", says Akhil Iyer, UNICEF’s Representative in Niger.

© UNICEF/Niger/2009/Holtz
A girl helps her mother carry a family kit received at one of the sites sheltering flood-affected populations in Agadez.

"When natural disasters occur, children and women are those who suffer the most. In Agadez, many women are heading households, they are particularly vulnerable. Our role is to ensure that they are safe, protected and that they receive adequate food."

The organisation is also working on disseminating life-saving messages to the populations – focusing on good health and hygiene practices such as hand-washing with soap, on how to identify child-killer diseases like diarrhoea and malaria – via local radio stations, such as the Agadez-based Radio Nomade, as well as animators within the sites themselves.  Messages also focus on protection issues, such as the prevention of abuses and violence against children and women and about the identification of children that have been separated from their parents due to the floods.

At Azin’s primary school, in one of Agadez’ 16 sectors, the animator, Moustapha Ibrahim, is surrounded by a swarm of women, children and men that are anxiously listening to him. He is using a megaphone as more and more listeners are joining the group. "If you notice that your child has fever, vomits frequently and makes liquid feces several times within a couple of hours, it means that he or she has diarrhoea. You need to urgently take your child to the health centre."

Among the audience is Aïcha Aboubacar, a thirty year-old mother of four. "It is really enlightening for me to listen to this animator. There are so many things I did not know about. For example, I did not know what malaria was and how to treat it. Two of my children were sick last week. One had diarrhoea and the other malaria. I took them both to the health centre. They are doing well now."
Essential supplies and life-saving interventions
In addition to these sensitisation sessions, UNICEF has distributed essential relief items to the affected populations. Over 1,500 family kits have been distributed so far, each kit being composed of two mosquito nets, two blankets, two floor mats, ten bars of soap, two sheets of tarpaulin, two jerry cans, two buckets, one basin, and one cooking kit (two pans, three cups, four plastic glasses and a carafe), a treasure for most of the families living in Agadez.

"I am glad I have received my own mats and cooking utensils as we had to share them with five other families before", smiles Fatima Amadou, a 25 year-old mother of five, who has just received her kit at one of the distribution sites. "In the kit I have received, there were also two mosquito nets. We suffered a lot from mosquito bites over the past two weeks. Thank God we have not had any case of malaria, but I feel relieved that my children will be able to sleep under the bed net".
Although the floods have receded, ponds and stagnant waters are still ideal breeding spots for mosquitoes in Agadez, presenting a significant threat for thousands of children and pregnant women’s health.

Within the coming weeks, UNICEF is planning to organise a measles vaccination campaign for children aged nine months to fifteen years, along with Vitamin A supplementation, the identification of malnourished children, as well as to set up child-friendly spaces to provide children with psycho-social support and let them engage in recreational activities, at each of the four temporary camps for flood-affected people.

By Sandra Bisin



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