Humanitarian needs are exacerbated
In Niger, humanitarian needs were already at an all-time high prior to the pandemic and are now growing further particularly in the food security, protection, shelter and healthcare sectors. The humanitarian community is however committed to stay and continue providing critical assistance to the people in need.
Health: Healthcare facilities dedicated to the treatment of COVID-19 have been set up countrywide but the services remain limited both in Niamey and in the regions. Even before the pandemic, the lack of medicines, shortage of qualified human resources and their uneven deployment had negatively impacted the provision of care. According to the government’s COVID-19 preparedness and response plan, the country has a 50.63% healthcare coverage rate with insufficient numbers of trained and qualified healthcare providers. So far, 184 medical personnel have tested positive for COVID-19 (representing 17% of infected people), further reducing the number of available staff.
The country is already grappling with various endemic health issues including malaria, meningitis, measles, cholera, (Shigellosis) intestinal bacteria and yellow fever. COVID-19 is the new addition to the list of diseases faced by the country. With more than nine out of ten patients (90.1%) who have recovered from COVID-19 as of 22 June, the National Institute of Statistics (NIS) has ranked Niger in sixth position among the African countries with a highest recovery rates.
Food security: The food security situation in Niger is of high concern due to the impact of COVID-19. As a result of the economic downturn and containment measures, 5,6 million people will be at risk of food insecurity during the lean season from June to September (23% of the total population – 24.2 million people), compared to 2 million anticipated at the beginning of the year. Ongoing insecurity, the lack of resources, and constrained access to food is worsening food insecurity in the country.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the disruption of infant and child feeding practices (IYCF), a slowdown in nutrition awareness and prevention activities and the reduction of access to health and nutrition services. Consequently, the number of children suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) is likely to increase by 35% and the number of children suffering from moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) by 27%.
The situation is expected to worsen as economic activities and market flows are constrained due to the closure of borders between neighbouring countries. In a country highly dependent on food imports and with limited stocks in-country, food prepositioning is critical to mitigate possible supply chain disruptions. With the start of the rainy season (June-September), access to markets and roads may be hampered further. As a result, food security actors have prepositioned adequate stocks to supply remote areas.
Displacement: Conflicts are causing more displacement and disrupting livelihoods particularly in the border region. Internally displaced persons, returnees, refugees and host communities living in conflict-prone areas bordering Nigeria (Diffa and Maradi regions), Burkina Faso and Mali (Tahoua and Tillaberi regions) are particularly vulnerable due to their precarious living condition and insecurity. In addition, 63,000 migrants remain stranded in overcrowded reception and transit centres in Agadez, Niamey, Tahoua and Zinder.
Protection: Humanitarian actors are disseminating COVID-19 related information, strengthening psychosocial support and boosting awareness raising campaigns on gender-based violence. Child protection actors aim to prevent separation and abandonment which are higher risks during the pandemic. As an immediate consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the already fragile humanitarian and protection situation in Diffa has deteriorated further with serious reduction of humanitarian movements and access to affected people. Some of the protection risks faced by forcibly displaced persons which might be aggravated by the pandemic include: the risk of escalation and worsening of conflicts; kidnapping with payment of ransoms; stigmatization of COVID-19 patients and their relatives within communities; forced child marriage due to lack of resources of families; risk of refoulement due to border closures, the risk of social discrimination and exclusion that displaced persons could face (particularly in case of positive COVID-19 test).