The people of Diffa
Diffa. This name sounds like an invitation to poetry. Once one of Niger’s symbol of culture and trade, the Diffa region located in the southeastern part of Niger is now home to a conflict that is affecting more than 250,000 people.
I am heading to Bouloungui, a village on the outskirts of Diffa town. I am reminded by Hassane, a colleague from Niger, that “we cannot spend much time there”. Bouloungui is a red zone — a zone where insecurity is extremely high. The Nigerian boarder is about two kilometre from the village, and Boko Haram militants are known for conducting raids in the area.
The repeated Boko Haram attacks carried out in Bosso and Diffa towns have led to a situation where populations have been displaced several times: two out of three people have been displaced more than once. Some have fled the violence in Northeastern Nigeria to settle across the boarder, in Diffa region. This massive influx of refugees, returnees and internally displaced people has been adding additional strains to an already fragile context.
DIFFA UP CLOSE
One could think that Bouloungui has been abandoned by its inhabitants. The calm and silence that emerge from the place is striking. As we advance, the village chiefs are gathered in the main square. One of them will be our guide. The streets are sinuous, some children are playing, their laughter a reassuring presence.
From the far distance, a man waves his hands. He seems eager to talk to us. “Please follow-me, I want to show you something,” he says. Mourimar Boukar, 46 years old, is from Bouloungouri where he lives with his 14 children.
“We live under fear, but we do our best to live a normal life,” says Mourimar.
The village has seen a massive arrival or refugees, returnees and internally displaced people over the two last years and the host community had to adapt to that.
“They are our brothers and sisters, we had to welcome them and help them start a new life,” adds Mourimar.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has been assisting refugees, displaced and host populations in the Diffa region for over two years now with food and more recently with cash. The cash assistance amounts to 32,500 FCFA ($53) that people can use to buy food and cover other basic needs.
“Food distributions helped our family a lot but if I had to choose between food distributions and cash, I would choose cash. With the cash received I can buy food for my family and I can start business activities that will give more money,” says Mourimar.
Mourimar has a piece of land where his family grows okra. The money they get from selling any surplus of okra helps them survive.
“It is dangerous for me to go outside the village to cultivate my land. But I will risk my life to take care of my family,” says Mourimar with determination.
“There is another family I would like you to meet, they are refugees,” exclaims our guide. Two blocks away from Mourimar’s house is Aboubakar’s.
Aboubakar is 69 years old, he is from Assaga in Nigeria. He arrived in Boulonguouri two years ago with his seven children.
“We had to run for our lives. We were scared. Boko Haram came in our village and killed 13 people. The cries still resonate in my mind,” says Aboubakar, his voice filled with anxiety.
Asked if he would go back to Nigeria if there is peace again, he simply answers “no, that would be insane after what we endured”.
Aboubakar’s family benefitted from food and cash. “This money helps us a lot. I want to thank WFP for this. My life is better now and I am more confident about our future,” says Aboubakar with a smile.
The situation is still very complicated in the Diffa region. The latest results of the Emergency Food Security Assessment (EFSA) conducted in August highlight that over 350,000 people are potentially affected by food insecurity. WFP is providing assistance to the most vulnerable and is implementing resilience projects where possible.
WFP wishes to thank the following donors for their support to emergency operations in Niger: Australia, Canada, ECHO, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Luxemburg, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, UN CERF, United States of America.
FOOTNOTES: Story and photos: WFP/Simon Pierre Diouf