Thousands returning to Nigeria face life-threatening lack of water

Thousands of displaced persons returning from Cameroon are facing appalling conditions on arrival in Pulka in Northern Nigeria.

Despite repeated warnings to authorities by humanitarian organizations, including Oxfam, on severe water shortages and limited shelter in Pulka, an estimated 3,800 people have arrived over the last days, following their government-organised return from Cameroon to Nigeria.

Many of the refugee returnees seem to have been misinformed by promises of improved access to humanitarian assistance and safe return to their villages of origin outside the town. Unfortunately, those are not the realities in Pulka, where movement is restricted to the few square kilometers of the military perimeter, and aid agencies are struggling to provide a minimum level of services.

Earlier this year, a severe lack of available water was already a major health risk for the estimated 35,000 people crowded into displacement sites and vacant homes in Pulka. Due to continued insecurity, there is no hope that the displaced will be able to return to their villages in the near future.

Over the past three months, nearly 10,000 more people have arrived in Pulka from surrounding areas and from Cameroon. Humanitarian actors have warned consistently that the conditions in Pulka are neither dignified nor safe – and that alternatives must be found. Currently, people cannot count on much more than five liters of water per person per day, which is a far cry from the humanitarian minimum standard of 15 liters.

One woman, who had just arrived, told Oxfam “there is no food and no place to sleep. We are all staying outside with our children”, as she faced an uncertain future.

Every new busload of people hoping to return home, but delivered to the congested camp sites of Pulka, forces the little available water to be shared among more thirsty mouths, increasing the risks of disease and death.

Danielle Lustig, Oxfam's Emergency Coordinator for the Lake Chad region, says:

“People have already suffered immensely and we should not add more pain to their lives. They should only be relocated to places where there are sufficient basic services and provided with complete information about the conditions they will face. Any supported movements must be informed, safe, dignified and voluntary. Camps in Cameroon should continue to be a safe haven for people seeking refuge from the conflict.”

Notes to editors

  • Oxfam has been working in Pulka since February 2017, improving the limited access to water, constructing latrines and bathing facilities, distributing household items such as jerrycans and conducting public health promotion. Oxfam has also started a cash-for-work program for 600 households to support the rehabilitation of public infrastructure and drainage.
  • Spokespersons are available.

Contact information

Safiya Akau | Media Lead Humanitarian | +234 8085 662087 | Skype: sofszee | safiya.akau@oxfamnovib.nl

For updates, please follow @Oxfam.