Customer: UNHCR

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Photo: UNHCR

Source: UNHCR Niger

In the Diffa region, UNHCR has been providing emergency shelter assistance to vulnerable refugees and displaced persons since 2013 when the first refugees crossed the border fleeing Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria. In 2016 alone, over 65,000 people in the Diffa region benefitted from UNHCR emergency shelters.

Emergency shelters are not a long-term or sustainable solution, particularly in such harsh climatic conditions, with temperatures often reaching as high as 48 degrees Celsius in the dry season, regular sandstorms, and flooding in the rainy season. Made of plastic sheeting, sticks of wood and rope, emergency shelters are estimated to last just 6 months. With around 250,000 displaced spread across the region, 4 years since the arrival of the first forcibly displaced, humanitarian actors are constantly battling to meet the needs.

 Fati Boulama is a displaced person with Niger nationality. She had been living in Nigeria prior to the outbreak of conflict and was forced to return. She is now living with her husband and her three children in the town of Maine Soroa, not far from the Nigeria border. She benefited from the UNHCR “urbanization program” which not only provides housing but also plots and deeds in a legal and sustainable manner. Fati has her own plot, but until some weeks ago was living in a makeshift hut made of straw. She recently received Better Shelter and is extremely happy: “this shelter protects me and the children from the cold and from the rain. Before we were always worried when the cold season and the rainy season approached”. Fati, her husband and three children, intend to settle in Niger permanently.

Fati Boulama, Nigerien returnee, mother of 3 children, with her husband, at the site of Guidan Kadji, with their new ‘Better Shelter’

Traditionally, houses in the Diffa region were made of mud. This helps to regulate the temperature – producing heat inside during the cold season, and keeping the interior cool during the hot season. However, most houses are now made of mud for the walls but with metal sheeting for the roof. When discussing the benefits of the Better Shelter, Fati pointed out that “the metal sheeting increases the heat in the interior of the houses during the hot season. This new shelter is made from better material; it protects us well from the rain. We received our shelter during the rainy season, now we will wait to see how resistant it is to the heat”.

In the UNHCR Niger operation, standard shelter kits are gradually being adapted to the local context by the refugees themselves. For the Better Shelters, an initial assessment will be undertaken in the hot season to gather feedback and ideas from the refugees.In remote areas like Diffa, access to electricity is a radical change and the shelter’s solar powered light is welcomed feature. Some interesting things have already been observed, such as refugees using their solar panels to earn a small amount of money, by charging a small fee to neighbours to recharge their phones. The evolution/transformation of the Better Shelters will be observed with interest, with the goal of providing a better service.

UNHCR has ordered 96 units for its operations in Niger. Niger is currently hosting approximately 50 000 IDPs and 82 000 refugees, of which 37 000 are from the neighbouring Mali.

Malian refugees represent the main population of concern; they have fled violence since 2012 and are living in camps, refugee-hosting and urban areas. Refugees (Nigerian nationals) and returnees (Niger nationals who have previously been living in Nigeria) have fled violence in north-eastern Nigeria since May 2013 and are dispersed in more than 100 villages, hosted by the local community (more info).