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Thousands of displaced children at risk in Cameroon

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Posted by Berenger Berehoudougou, Plan's West Africa disaster risk management manager

Attacks by Boko Haram fighters are forcing thousands of children and their families to seek refuge in the Far North region of Cameroon where they are struggling to survive, blogs Berenger Berehoudougou, Plan's West Africa disaster risk management manager.

Plan International is working to provide vital support to affected families – including water and sanitation, education and child protection.

10 April 2105: The lives of thousands of children and their families are at risk in the Far North region of Cameroon. This is the story of Almara, who fled her village and now lives in a settlement camp.

"They came at night, on motorbikes, and started shooting and killing people, taking our livestock and belongings. They burnt everything. We ran away in the night to save our lives. The only things I took from my house were a map and one single cooking pot. I left behind all my jewellery, and you know how important these are for a Fulani women like me," she whispered.

I met Almara in one of the settlements for internally displaced people (IDPs) in the Far North region of Cameroon earlier this month. Her pastoralist village situated alongside the Nigerian border had been attacked 3 months back by Boko Haram insurgents.

Escaping violence

During the attack, Almara and her 7 children witnessed very violent scenes. Her husband's uncle was killed in front of them, and she saw a pregnant woman being thrown into the fire and many other people killed, including men, children and women.

Almara confessed she couldn't sleep and had constant nightmares - her children still have nightmares and frequently shout and cry at nights.

"My children are able to play with other children in the settlement but when they see a foreigner, they cry and run away. Even now, there is a woman in our settlement who runs and hides in the neighbouring bush whenever she hears the sound of a motorcycle,'' she added.

Almara escaped with few people from her village. "We walked 20 days in the bush from Mozoko circle to this place. It was a painful journey, full of fear, hunger and thirst," she said.

"We sold some of our livestock to local communities to buy food. Having drinking water was a bigger challenge. At times, we would stay the whole day long without any drop of water and most of our livestock would collapse on the way," said Allasane, Almara's father-in-law.

When Almara and her family arrived in Golmavi circle, they were welcomed by the local communities who shared with them the little resources they had, endangering their own limited coping capacities.

"We seem to be forgotten"

So far, the IDPs say they have received very limited support from non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

"They [NGOs] came to provide some food and tarpaulin 2 months ago. We seem to be forgotten. We struggle to find drinking water for not only ourselves but also for the little livestock we have. The animals drink once a day by turn to allow the wells to recharge. Animals are all that we have to survive. They provide us with milk to feed our children,' said Amadou, the leader of Almara's settlement, which hosts 9 families of about 79 people.

In this Sahelian part of Cameroon, resource scarcity is part of daily life: water points are rare and crowded, access to pasture lands is crucial, food stock and prices are volatile. There is a risk that conflicts arise if nothing is done urgently to help the IDPs and host communities cope with this unusual burden on a fragile environment.

Hunger and thirst

The forthcoming rainy season will make the situation worse as flash floods are common in this area. Road access will be much more complicated and cases of malaria and waterborne diseases are predictable. Despite the security situation, if the few humanitarian actors present in the Far North region of Cameroon are not given the means to act quickly, lives of thousands of children and their families are at risk.

Like Almara and her family, there are about 96,042 internally displaced people* affected by the Boko Haram insurrection, who are dispersed in a region as big as Belgium and Luxembourg together. They live in small temporary settlements in the suburb of isolated villages. All of them are witnesses or survivors of violence and are in desperate need of support. Humanitarian assistance hardly reaches them. Small settlements difficult to locate and lack of funding hamper the international NGOs to adequately address their needs.

Poor road conditions and the lack of funding, makes IDPs one of the priority groups to address for Plan International, as it is estimated that around 60% of them are school going age children.

In Almara's community alone, 40 children do not attend school, the nearest school being too far. Children suffer hunger and thirst and miss the basics under their temporary straw shelters with roof built with fine tarpaulin.

Find out more about Plan’s work in Cameroon

*Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites

Apr 10, 2015 04:45 PM