Niger: Aid groups struggle to locate and support people displaced by Boko Haram

People line up for a food distribution in the Diffa region of Niger. (Credit: EU/ECHO/Jean de Lestrange)

More than one out of every three people in Niger’s Diffa region have been forced to leave their homes as attacks carried out by Boko Haram have spilled over from neighboring Nigeria. Aid groups and the U.N. say more people are fleeing, but humanitarian resources are not keeping up with the increased need.

At the start of June, Boko Haram forces attacked the town of Bosso. Between 40,000 and 70,000 people fled as a result. Many of those people were already displaced by prior attacks. Aid groups like Doctors Without Borders (MSF) are providing assistance to people in the Diffa region. They are doing their best to track people as they flee, but that is becoming increasingly difficult.

“Our concern is that there are still a lot of people who have not been located, and no one can say for sure that people are going to remain where they are. People are still moving because of insecurity and because they need to find a source of income,” said Elmounzer Ag Jiddou, head of the MSF mission in Niger, in a statement.

The attack in Bosso adds to the already 240,000 people displaced. Most of those people are women and children, according to UNICEF. It expressed concern on Tuesday over the potential for an increase in diarrheal diseases and respiratory tract diseases because so many people are living in makeshift refugee shelters along Route Nationale 01, the main highway that passes through the Diffa region.

For Doctors Without Borders, the priority is providing clean water. Vehicles filled with buckets of water are making rounds in Garin Wanzam and Kintchandi, home to more than 70,000 displaced people, but that is not enough as the population continues growing. UNICEF is also trucking water and is beginning to drill wells, because it is expected that people will likely stay at some of the refugee sites for an extended period of time.

For the past seven years, Boko Haram militants have carried out attacks and kidnappings in Northeastern Nigeria. Tens of thousands of people have fled to neighboring countries to escape the violent Islamist group. Attacks soon crossed border lines, displacing people in Cameroon and Niger. A concerted effort by the Nigerian military to beat back Boko Haram with the support of regional forces, has yielded some gains but Boko Haram persists. Roughly 2,000 soldiers from Chad are set to bolster a new military effort against Boko Haram.

Aid groups are working in Chad, Nigeria and Cameroon to provide assistance to people displaced by Boko Haram. As is the case with working in conflict regions, having adequate supplies and access to people in need of assistance are extremely difficult. A Doctors Without Borders-managed health post in Yebi was destroyed by an attack in mid-May. The aid group eventually stopped working in the town and nearby Toumour following the Bosso offensive earlier this month.

Niger’s military says it regained control of Bosso from Boko Haram. There are some reports that people are slowly returning to what is left of their homes. But that is the minority, and Boko Haram continues to launch attacks in the region.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.