In Niger, gas project to support refugees and save trees

Making a Difference, 13 August 2014

© UNHCR
These Malian refugees seen cooking food on gas rings in Niger's Abala camp have benefitted from the project.

ABALA REFUGEE CAMP, Niger, August 13 (UNHCR) A UN refugee agency project in Niger is empowering refugees and protecting the local environment by improving access to domestic energy, thanks to a key partnership with one local business. As a result, households in the area who had previously struggled to secure firewood, can now look forward to four months of gas.

A groundbreaking contract saw the Niger firm install storage centres in remote refugee sites, where physical and financial access is limited, for distribution and bottling. In return, UNHCR procured bottles, stoves and refills to meet the needs of more than 2,600 refugee households in Abala.

For women like Alkaounatou, a Malian refugee and a single mother with three children, the gas project is invaluable. Previously, she had less than US$1 a day to spend on firewood.

Like thousands stranded in Niger and Mali, it took her three hours to find wood and she sometimes skipped meals in order to afford the day's supply. Schemes to fight malnutrition were being reduced to ashes for a few pieces of firewood. Women were also at risk while out foraging.

Today, Alkaounatou earns more than US$2 through her business. "Before the gas reached us, I was forced to sell part of our food ration to buy firewood," she recalls. "But with the gas project, I could save some money, buy merchandise and open my own business. Now I do not depend only on assistance to feed my children."

Maimouna, another single refugee mother with four children, is now similarly self-sufficient. "Gas has very much relieved me," she says. "At one time I used to fetch wood and I was not able to undertake any other activity. Today, I get up, prepare my noodles and roast my pancakes with gas and I sell them."

The project is the first of its kind in Niger and now UNHCR hopes to mobilize its partners, such as France and the European Commission, to help extend the use of gas to other camps. And as Akiyou, chairman of refugees in Abala, noted, it is not only the displaced and local populations that reap the benefits. "The gas came to the rescue of the trees. When there is no tree, there is no life on earth."

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Malian refugees flee for safety to Niger

Thousands of Malian families have arrived in Niger since mid-January, fleeing fighting between a rebel Tuareg movement and Malian government forces in northern Mali. Refugees are living in makeshift settlements along the border, exposed to the sun and wind by day, and cold at night. UNHCR has started distributing relief assistance and is planning to open camps in safer areas further away from the border. UNHCR's Helene Caux met with some the refugees who all expressed their desire to return to their country once peace prevails.

Malian refugees flee for safety to Niger

Malians still fleeing to Niger

Malian refugees continue to arrive in Niger, fleeing fighting and general insecurity and political instability in their country. At the Mangaizé refugee site in northern Niger, some 3,000 refugees live in difficult conditions, bearing soaring temperatures during the day and wondering when they will be able to return home. The scarce water and food resources in the arid Sahel country also present a huge challenge for the refugees and local communities. More than 40,000 Malians have found refuge in Niger since January, when fighting erupted between a rebel Tuareg movement and Malian government forces. More than 160,000 Malians have arrived in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania, while 133,000 are displaced within their country. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visited Niger, including Mangaizé, in early May with World Food Programme Executive Director Ertharin Cousin to help focus world attention on the crisis and to seek help for the displaced.

Malians still fleeing to Niger

Malian refugees in Niger struggle to rebuild their lives

Some 60,000 Malian civilians have found refuge in Niger this year, fleeing fighting in northern Mali as well as political instability in the whole country. Most are hosted in three official camps - Tabareybarey, Mangaize and Abala. A significant number are living in spontaneous settlements. All are located in harsh arid countryside where life is tough despite the assistance provided by UNHCR and other aid agencies.

Children are the most vulnerable group, with some suffering from acute malnutrition. Older children are looking forward to resuming their education in a foreign land. Meanwhile, some 6,000 refugees are living in the Niger capital, Niamey, where many of them look for work so that they can send money back to relatives still in Mali.

Meanwhile, the future remains uncertain. Many people fear that continuing fighting inside Mali could lead to an accelerated exodus of refugees from Mali into neighbouring countries, including Niger.

The following photographs by UNHCR photographer Hélène Caux depict life for the refugees in Tabareybarey and Mangaize camps as well as in Niamey.

Malian refugees in Niger struggle to rebuild their lives

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