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Fighting Boko Haram leaves far eastern Niger in a state of humanitarian emergency

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The devastation caused by Boko Haram and the military forces fighting them has plunged the people of far eastern Niger into a serious food crisis and has slashed their incomes to a tenth of what they were before, Oxfam warned today.

In Diffa, the far eastern region of Niger, the Government has closed markets, banned fishing and restricted access to land, fertiliser and fuel needed for red pepper farming. Red peppers were previously known as ‘red gold’ because of the money that their export brought into Niger. Cross-border trade with Nigeria and Niger is almost at a standstill.

The Government has also imposed restrictions on people’s freedom of movement and has forced families to move from their homes are farmland. An effect of the decision is that vast areas are now militarised and declared ‘no go’ zones for civilians. This includes Lake Chad.

In an Oxfam survey, data showed a 96 percent decrease in the number of people who gained an income from red pepper since the conflict began. Those who continue to work as small pepper farmers only earn 64 percent of the revenue they used to earn before the onset of the Boko Haram crisis.

Small producers and sharecroppers said they were only able to access approximately one-fifth of the land they previously either owned or worked on in some areas. Today fishermen who were making US$1,515 a year before the crisis are now making US$420 a year, which represents a 72 percent drop in their yearly revenue.

The majority of fishermen have had stop but some continue. The fishermen Oxfam interviewed used to get an average of 89 percent of their total income from fishing. They said they feared getting killed by Boko Haram or caught by the military and detained for terrorism charges. The same with farmers, especially those who are forced into taking part in illegal trading or cross the border to Nigeria to buy fuel and fertiliser.

Farah Karimi, Oxfam’s Executive Director in the Netherlands, said: “The emergency measures are destroying people’s lives, strangling economic activities, and limiting people’s access to food and markets. This makes the hunger that we see so much worse. Many are simply reliant on humanitarian aid. Many of them take great risks to continue fishing, farming and trading in order to ensure their families don’t go hungry. The huge number of people who have fled their homes is placing a huge strain on already scarce resources. Civilians are paying too high a price for these measures. The Government needs to relax the emergency measures to ensure people can fish and farm safely.”

The fishing and red pepper trades combined contributed US$48 million to the Nigerien economy prior to the onset of the Boko Haram conflict.

The Nigerien Government declared a state of emergency on 11 February 2015 for the entire Diffa region and introduced restrictions to cut off Boko Haram’s access, to food, money and supplies. About 340,000 people are affected in Niger by the Boko Haram crisis. It is one of the world’s poorest countries and Diffa the most deprived of its regions.

Oxfam is rehabilitating and constructing boreholes to provide safe, clean water to people who have fled their homes and communities, and is delivering life-saving food assistance to families severely affected by the crisis.