143 views | Akpan Akata | March 26, 2021
United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has expressed serious concern on the security situation in Niger even as he reaffirmed the global body’s support and solidarity with the African country.
In less than a week, second deadly attack against civilians rocked the country as unidentified gunmen attacked the villages of Intazayene, Bakorate and Wistane in the Tahoua region, killing at least 137 people, including 22 children on Sunday.
The attacks took place as people were fetching water, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Since February 2020 malnutrition, disease, floods, droughts and displacement in Niger have put nearly three million people, more than half of them children, in need of humanitarian assistance, UNICEF had said, calling for increased attention to their plight.
Exacerbated by instability in the region that has led to an influx of thousands of refugees, returnees, internally displaced persons and migrants, simultaneous emergencies are stretching the capacities of humanitarian partners to respond.
“In a context of constrained resources and limited social services, the communities that host displaced populations are showing extraordinary resilience and sharing the little they have”, said Félicité Tchibindat, UNICEF Representative, following a visit to the conflict-affected region of Diffa.
“As more attention is now paid to the resurgence of armed violence in the central Sahel, it is equally important to pay the same attention to its impact on children and their families,” she added.
And insecurity increases the already significant chronic challenges in Niger.
Attacks against civilians in the Lake Chad region prevented 263,000 people in Diffa from returning to their homes.
At the same time, growing insecurity along the borders with Burkina Faso and Mali has exacerbated needs in Tillabéri and Tahoua regions, where nearly 78,000 people have been displaced.
Moreover, deteriorating security on the border with Nigeria has caused tens of thousands of people to seek refuge in border villages of the Maradi region, in central Niger.
Insecurity is spreading rapidly in the central Sahel region, and women and children are bearing the brunt of the violence.
“In already fragile host communities, the burden of forced displacement increases the vulnerability of children and communities and significantly affects their health, protection, nutrition and education”, warned the UNICEF envoy.
The sharp increase in insecurity, violence and military operations has also hampered humanitarian actors’ access to populations affected by conflict.
“Reaching those in need is increasingly challenging”, she said. “UNICEF calls on all stakeholders to respect humanitarian spaces allowing safe and sustainable access to deliver humanitarian assistance to affected populations, including women and children, wherever they are”.
UNICEF also appealed for solidarity to help the Government and its partners to meet the urgent needs of the affected populations and provide vital assistance to improve their living conditions.
As the situation worsens, attention has been oriented to the security dimensions, directly impacting access to education, health, nutrition, water and sanitation – the basis of people’s resilience.
“National and international partners are called upon to protect and further promote social investments that transform children’s lives” said the UNICEF Representative.
UNICEF in Niger
UNICEF is working in the country on several priority fronts to help those affected by emergencies and conflicts.
It is working with national actors and humanitarian partners to respond to acute emergencies, such as population movements, and strengthen national capacities to mitigate risks and respond to cyclical and chronic emergencies, including flooding, malnutrition, disease outbreaks and epidemics.
In 2020, the UN agency and its partners will need $59.4 million to deliver vital humanitarian aid to children throughout the country.
On March 15, gunmen killed at least 58 civilians, including six children, as they were returning from a weekly market in the Banibangou department, Tillaberi region, about 400 kilometres (250 miles) south-west of Tahoua.
In a statement issued by his spokesperson, Guterres strongly condemned Sunday’s attack and called on the Nigerien authorities to “spare no effort” in identifying and swiftly bringing the perpetrators to justice.
He also urged greater efforts to protect civilians.
The UN chief also called on countries in the Sahel region to continue their efforts, in close collaboration with regional organizations and international partners, “to address these serious threats to security and stability in the sub-region and beyond”.
In a separate statement, UNICEF said it was “deeply shocked and outraged” by the attack and called on all parties to protect children and keep them out of harm’s way.
“Attacks on children and families must stop, once and for all. Enough is enough”, Marie-Pierre Poirier, the agency’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa, said.
“It is hard to believe that children in the region should live in permanent fear of such attacks. This doesn’t have to be their reality”, she added.
Ms. Poirier also voiced concerns over the impact of the violence and insecurity on efforts to reach the vulnerable with aid.
“The continuing conflict, repeated attacks, and access restrictions due to insecurity and violence are hampering our ability to reach those most in need”, she warned.
Across Niger, about 3.8 million people are in need of assistance and protection, including about 2 million children. Hunger is one of the main concerns, with nearly 920,000 children acutely malnourished (as of March 2020).