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As School Year Starts, Nigerien Flood-Displaced Civilians Move Again

People protect their houses from flood water after torrential rain brought down buildings (file photo - 31 Aug 2010)

People protect their houses from flood water after torrential rain brought down buildings (file photo - 31 Aug 2010)

The start of the school year in Niger means another move for people displaced by flooding, who had been camped in school courtyards. The government is helping those who have nowhere else to go.

Four months ago, cattle grazed along the River Niger, as local farmers neared a record vegetable harvest in a country where one in six children was malnourished because of poor rains across the Sahel.

Now the riverside grasses for cattle are under water. Men cast their fishing nets atop flooded fields of lettuce.

An abundance of rain too soon flooded crops, driving people from their homes as the river burst its banks, washing away vegetables and rice and displacing more than 5,000 people around the capital, Niamey.

The water came quickly to Illia Halima's Lamorde' neighborhood.

Halima says her family was surprised by the water. They had it blocked and thought there was no way it could overrun them. But, at 6 o'clock in the evening, their mayor came and told them they had to go. They were moved to a school because the students were on vacation.

The United Nations and the aid group Oxfam helped resettle people temporarily in schoolyards. Those who have family or other places to live gradually left the camps. But those without anywhere to go lingered on as the school year approached. So, Niger's government moved them to another site so schools could open on schedule.

"Resumption of school is on due time, so people have to leave there," said Colonel Soumana Djibo, the local governor. "The families have to leave the schools. So, those who didn't know where to go, we have vacated a certain site with some shelters with tents, water, and sanitation and hygiene to relocate people and take care of them, to give them a human way of living in this site."

Illia Halima lives at one of these sites with her children and her mother in tents provided with the help of Rotary International. She is looking for a place to live, but says renting a house in the capital requires three or four months rent to be paid in advance. And, she does not have the money to pay.

Halima says they spend every night here. And, during the day, they look for somewhere to live so they can leave. She says it is hard finding a house in Niamey. Her children have returned to school and they do not want to live here forever. That is her biggest problem, because the children's school is so far from the camp.

Colonel Djibo says the government does not want these people simply to return to land that will be flooded again the next time the river rises. So authorities are trying to help them get out of the tents and find somewhere more permanent, on higher ground.