Niger Faces Catastrophic Humanitarian Situation, President Says : Goats and Soda Boko Haram attacks have created a potential humanitarian disaster. Thousands of citizens have fled their homes. Refugees from Nigeria are pouring in. And there isn't enough food to feed them all.
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Why Niger Is Having A Horrible Year

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Why Niger Is Having A Horrible Year

Why Niger Is Having A Horrible Year

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

We've heard a lot about how Boko Haram terrorizes large parts of Nigeria. We've heard far less about its Sahara Desert neighbor Niger, which is also under attack by Boko Haram. Niger is one of the world's poorest countries and is now struggling to feed Nigerian refugees and its own displaced people. From the Assaga refugee camp in Niger, here's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Niger's main east-west highway runs through the heart of a sweeping expanse of desert. On either side is the vast Assaga camp. Flimsy straw huts, some with plastic sheeting, dot the arid, dusty landscape. These makeshift dwellings are home to some of the 160,000 displaced Nigeriens and 80,000 Nigerians who sought refuge from across the nearby border in Niger's Diffa region.

All were fleeing Boko Haram attacks on both sides of the border. Fifty-year-old Nigerian headmaster Kyari Bukar and his wife and six children are among them.

KYARI BUKAR: We are not getting enough food.

QUIST-ARCTON: You are not getting enough food to feed the family.

BUKAR: We're the hungry. We are appealing to the whole world to bring assistance.

QUIST-ARCTON: Almost every Nigerian refugee or displaced Nigerien we spoke to expressed the same concern. With the impending Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan and the farming lean season almost upon them, their most pressing anxiety is the dearth of relief food aid reaching the camp.

ABDOU KAZA: They say that they don't have enough to eat. It is not especially a situation that concerns only the region of Diffa and only the refugees or displaced persons.

QUIST-ARCTON: Abdou Kaza is the governor of Niger's Diffa region, where Assaga camp is located. The U.N. World Food Programme says almost half a million people need food aid in Diffa, including those at the camp.

KAZA: It is a general situation. But the government give food as far as possible, according to the means of the country. We have just what we have.

QUIST-ARCTON: The Diffa governor was visiting Assaga camp with the United Nations emergency relief coordinator, Stephen O'Brien, who's also the U.N.'s humanitarian chief. He says there's a sizable funding shortfall.

STEPHEN O'BRIEN: Well, what is clear is that across Niger at the moment, there are about 2 million who are food-insecure. We're in the - very much in the lean season. It's very tough times in this area - of very high population growth, of resource scarcity, of increased climate effect through desertification. These have real effects on the real lives of people.

QUIST-ARCTON: Away from the visiting dignitaries, a little question about his hopes for the future to the Nigerian refugee teacher in Niger - and he breaks down. The eyes of Kyari Bukar, who had stoically recounted his family's ordeal at the hands of Boko Haram, suddenly filled with tears. Choking back quiet sobs, he made this appeal.

BUKAR: The Boko Haram - there are still many. Help us. We are just very worried. So we are not happy.

QUIST-ARCTON: There are many anxious nods of agreement from other camp residents who are listening to Kyari Bukar say, we can't go back home to Nigeria until it's completely safe. And we hope Allah will bring peace. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Assaga camp, Diffa, Niger.

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