Last week, ICRC President Peter Maurer, was in the Lake Chad region witnessing firsthand the effects of brutal war on the people of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. Each day, he reflected on what he saw on the ground.
Imagine the population of your home town exploding – multiplying 20 fold in just three days.
If that happened in my home town of Thun, Switzerland (pop 40,000), it would by far overtake Zurich as the biggest city in the country!
It’s safe to say the local authorities of the newly super-sized Thun would have a few challenges on their hands. Is there enough drinking water to go round? Where will all the new kids go to school? How will the health system cope?
Here in Niger, and the other 3 countries in the Lake Chad basin, this is not some far-fetched scenario. It’s the new normal.
2.6 million people have been driven from their homes by brutal war. They don’t end up in formal camps. Instead, they find a form of refuge in a patchwork of little villages and towns spread across this vast brown plain.
In Garin Wanzam, the village I visited today in the Diffa region, life was already tough for people before the violence changed their world. Garin Wanzam used to have just one basic well for its 1,500 inhabitants – and that often left them woefully short of water. But when in June the population jumped to 30,000, it was simply overwhelmed and needed outside help.
Speaking to villagers today, I was struck by how accepting they are of their new role as hosts to tens of thousands of people.
Perhaps the quiet, haunting thought that many of us have – the idea that “it could have been me” – propels us to protect our common humanity.
The Irish Red Cross has been working with communities in Niger since 2005 improving food security through resilience programmes. Read more about the Irish Red Cross work in Niger here.
Could you survive this? A two-day walk under the scorching Sahel sun with no food or water, all while nursing a severe leg wound.
Mallam did. First she fled the fighting in Nigeria in 2015, found shelter in a village in neighbouring Niger, only to flee again after another attack. Then in June, at her next location, her house was hit by a mortar, killing three of her children and a grandchild.
Despite being wounded, Mallam walked with her surviving children to a basic health centre 22 kilometres away. When they arrived the doctors were forced to amputate her 10-year-old son’s shrapnel-laced arm.
You can’t listen to Mallam’s story without feeling stunned. How do you bear such grief, such incomprehensible loss? How do you explain to a neighbor everything that’s happened to your children?
I met Mallam by her tent in a dusty camp on the main road to Diffa. I wonder how long this will be a safehaven for her. Will the family be uprooted again?
The scale of the crisis in the Lake Chad region is staggering: over 9 million people need life-saving aid.
Yet, by and large, the world doesn’t seem to care. Buried safely away in an inaccessible corner of Africa, this conflict has been allowed to fester for years. A breaking news story on the kidnapped Chibok girls brings the Lake Chad region up on the radar internationally briefly, before it quickly lapses into obscurity once again.
Mallam doesn’t need our pity. She needs us to take collective action, so she doesn’t have to lose another child to this war, and so she can remember what it’s like to live without fear.