Day 2: Wednesday
It’s 5am and outside feels like a furnace. It was cooler when we arrived at 3:30 yesterday.
The hotel overlooks the Niger River which the morning light reveals to be a shadow of its former self. Water levels have dropped significantly.
In an offshoot of the river, men are washing their clothes. Others are casting nets. For the last hour, one lone fisherman has been casting around several areas without a catch. Two others in a small boat are having similar luck.
© UNICEF UK/2010/Terry Ally. A tributary of the Niger River which has almost dried up.
Between this little tributary and the river, the ground is dry, dusty and hard, yet four men with hoes are hacking at the ground, tilling it. It is the official start of the rainy season so they are preparing to plant.
The only healthy-looking part of the environment appears to be lizards. They are obese. Many flies and malaria mosquitoes to eat, I guess.
The morning and early afternoon are spent in briefings.
We meet with UNICEF Niger Representative Guido Cornale who reveals that UNICEF has agreed to assist the World Food programme to treat moderately malnourished children. The two UN agencies are currently doing the paperwork to make it official. UNICEF will take on about half of the 1.2 million children who need treatment.
When UNICEF appealed in May to the world for £15 million (US$22 million) help to finance emergency treatment for nearly 400,000 severely malnourished children they expect this year, they received US$24 million.
With the additional responsibility for moderately malnourished children, they now need an additional £35 million (US$52 million).
Guido is a medical doctor who specialises in public health and an appropriately placed person to deal with the nutritional crisis facing this poor West African nation.
After our meeting with Guido we go to meet the UN Department of Security chief in Niger.
When I came, I understood that the security level of the country was Phase 1 – which means one has to be extra careful and take certain precautions. We are all trained in field security – including Marco di Lauro from Getty Images, so we are aware of what precautions are required.
However, I was taken aback to learn that Niger has three phases in operation. In Agadez to the north, Phase 3 is in operation. Just north and to the far east of where we are, is Phase 2. These phases mean different things and different actions are required. The reason for the Phases 2 and Phases 3 are because foreigners have been kidnapped in these areas and there have been landmine incidents.
Before leaving the UK we required security clearance to enter Niger. It was granted.
After the security people and lunch, we have a briefing on nutrition.
Of the 15 million people who live here, 84% of them live in the rural areas. They either rare cattle or farm the arid land.
In years when drought sets in, harvests are poor and food in short supply, many people head to the capital city and set up squatter camps anywhere there is vacant land. They’ve come in search of work, money, and food.
This afternoon we visit one squatter camp which the residents call both Dar es Salaam (new town) and Cité STIN.
Cité STIN is an area where the camps are in the shadow of homes costing about 50 million West African Francs (about £69,000).
As my interpreter told me, “this is an upper-upper, upper-middle class neighbourhood”. The homes are two storeys with perhaps three or more bedroom, satellite dishes and air conditioning units.
The neighbourhood is still under construction and these people are squatting on people’s building plots.They live in an igloo-shaped hut. The walls are made of cane mats. Each mat is about 6 feet x 4 feet. There is no water. No toilets. No showers. No electricity. No television. No radio. It’s mainly women, in their 20s and 30s with their children which seem to average about four per woman.
Theirs is an intriguing story about which I will write a case study on Oumou, 28, and Maimouna, 32, both from Loga about 350 kilometres north of Niamey.
© UNICEF UK/2010/Terry Ally. Maimouna Siddo, 32, and four of her six children. The house belongs to Maimouna's sister who just left Naimey to return to Loga. Maimouna moved in two weeks ago and is yet to find work to feed herself and four children.
On the way here, children were at every street corner and traffic light begging.
“It’s a normal thing to see children begging,” says Marco who has covered many countries in Africa over his long career.
It’s not a strange sight to me either. I’ve seen the same thing in the Middle East, Central America, South America and the Caribbean.
“It’s a new sight to us in Niamey,” one colleague insisted. “We never have children begging in Niamey. They have come with the crisis from the rural areas.
It’s heart-breaking to constantly tell every child “no merci” and turn them away. This is what aid workers are up against. This is the reason that UNICEF is working in these countries – not to give a hand-out but to provide a sustainable and lasting solution.
Terry Ally is Senior Media Officer, International Programmes and Emergencies, at UNICEF UK.