26 September 2012

Niger: Agencies Scramble to Repair Schools After Floods

Niamey — The government of Niger and aid agencies are scrambling to clean and repair thousands of schools that were damaged in the flooding from rains in July and August, which displaced over 500,000 people and killed over 80, in an effort to return children to school as soon as possible.

The worst-hit areas were Dosso in the southwest, Tillabéri in the west and Niamey Region, which includes the capital. Altogether, 150 of the country's 366 communes were affected, making the floods the worst the country has seen in 80 years, according to Oxfam.

The humanitarian response, from both the government and aid agencies, was swift, with thousands of food packages and non-food items distributed, says Modibo Traoré, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Niger, but recovery needs are now underfunded.

Some 1.5 million people were displaced or had their homes damaged in flooding across West Africa this rainy season, according to OCHA.

Early recovery needs

The government has an early recovery plan, "but it needs funding," said Traoré.

Some US$2.5 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has been released for flood response, but none of it has gone to rehabilitate schools, as education is not considered to be "life-saving".

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) is being given $1 million to rehabilitate 1,000 damaged health centres, most of them in Dosso and Tillabéri.

Schools are supposed to re-open on 27 September, but this will likely be delayed - some by as much as several weeks - say aid workers. "There is lots of work to do. Two weeks is not enough to do it all," Weifane Ibrahim, Oxfam's Niger education coordinator, told IRIN.

Displaced families fled to some 80 schools and other public buildings following the floods, but most of these buildings have since been vacated, with families receiving cash vouchers, basic supplies and encouragement to stay with host families.

"The sooner our schools are freed up, the quicker we can continue class," said Hima Achana, communication secretary at the National Teachers Union in Niger.

"Early recovery is the priority now - houses, schools, health centres, community centres, mosques and water points all need to be rebuilt," stressed Traoré.

Floods also destroyed some 7,000 hectares of crops, leaving farmers in need of tools and seeds so they can start again.

Forced resettlement

Too many families have settled in floodplains along the Niger River and must be relocated, says the government. Many block run-off water from the river, exacerbating floods, while some families in the Niamey region have settled on the riverbed itself, which is dry for most of the year.

Niamey Governor Aichatou Boulama Kane has announced that families will be relocated in coming months, noting that the government has designated appropriate locations for them.

This approach has not worked in the past; in 2010, some 900 families were given $1,000 to relocate, and then ended up just moving back to their original site, which was near the river and thus aided irrigated agriculture. But the government, then transitional, is now more firmly installed and should have more success this time around, Traoré predicted.

Thousands of Niamey families who lost their homes are calling on the government to help them with temporary shelter and rebuilding.

At Saga 1, a riverside village on the outskirts of Niamey, many homeless families have settled in with extended family or friends and are waiting for help. "They asked us to leave the schools where we were sheltering, but as of now no one has shown us the site where we'll be moving," said Mahamane Issa, 40.

The government has promised to do so, with the help of its partners.

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]

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