Information last updated: 6 May, 2020
Sources: TheWorld Bank and WHO (Population over 65 years old, Informal employment, GDP-PPP, Hospital beds).
A curfew is imposed in the capital city, the epicenter of the pandemic in Niger. Measures will be progressively lifted from June 1st if the situation improves.
Response set up and capacity
The Council of Ministers, under the lead of President Mahamadou Issoufou, is coordinating the response to the threat of Covid-19. The Ministry of Public Health manages the health system capacity, and executes community engagement, infection control, logistics, and epidemiologic surveillance. Cooperating with the State, a range of stakeholders is acting in Niger. The Banque Ouest Africaine de Développement (BOAD), The World Bank and the IMF provide financial support. Organizations such as UNICEF, Enabel, or Médecins du Monde provide material and technical support to the government.
In view of the weak state of the healthcare system capacity, the Government emphasizes the need for prevention and for containment of the disease.
Entities / Organizations
• Office of the President
• Council of Ministers
• Ministry of Public Health
• Technical and financial support by: BOAD, BECEAO, UEMOA, Agence Française de Développement (AFD), World Bank, The IMF, The UN
• Raising awareness and prevention campaigns: UNICEF, Unions, Enabel
• Extra support: Médecins du Monde, The European Union, WHO
Mitigating factors - What is being done?
- March 4: Launch of a “chatbot” on WhatsApp with the aim of answering Covid-19-related queries, raising awareness, and spreading reliable information on the disease.
- March 13: The government announces the cancellation of International conferences.
- March 17: A dialogues between religious leaders and the government is initiated to limit religious assemblies. On this date, all schools at all levels are officially closed, as well as bars, clubs, cinemas and theaters. Gathering of 50 people or more are forbidden and the government makes mandatory sanitary measures in markets, shops and restaurants. Social distancing of at least 1 meter in public spaces is mandated. Furthermore, government announces that the diagnostic and care of Covid-19-related patients is free of charge and allocates CFA 1 billion to finance emergency measures.
- March 19: The first case of Covid-19 is confirmed and all international airports, except for domestic flights, trade of sanitary equipment, cargos, and military transport are banned. Closure of land borders, except for the trade of goods. Religious gatherings are forbidden and the use of public transportation is restricted.
- March 27: The President declares a State of Emergency, which entails shortened work hours, the provision of free health services to Covid-19 patients in health facilities, and initiates and active search and tracing of active/suspected cases of Covid-19. Furthermore, the government announces provision to increase capacity of testing and provision of health equipment for health workers. In total, 1,500 health workers are recruited to the Fonction Publique de l’Etat. A set of fiscal measures, including the tax exoneration for imported products used against Covid-19, such as masks, hydroalcoholic gel etc., and tax reductions or exemptions in other sectors (i.e. catering, transport, housing) are announced. The State also assumes the payments of water and electricity bills in April and May for the vulnerable populations and suspends fiscal controls in April and May 2020.
- March 28: Night curfew in the capital is announced from 7pm to 6am.
- March 29: The capital city is put down under strict Isolation for one week at least – Niamey hosts the largest number of infected people.
- April 3:The Council of Ministers approves the creation of a solidarity fund (i.e. “Le Fond de Solidarité pour la Lutte contre le Covid-19”). This fund is to be used to cover expenses related to Covid-19, including in the healthcare sector, toward the stabilization/recovery of the economy, or to cover institutional expenses.
- April 10: Face masks are made mandatory in Niamey, specifically in public places, markets, and urban transport. Nevertheless, due to the high price of masks, few people wear them.
- April 23:Some measures are relaxed in the Capital City and the curfew is eased from 9pm to 5am.
Risks, vulnerabilities, obstacles
- Weak healthcare system: Niger has a poor healthcare system; in 2014, there were only 0.05 physicians per 1,000 people in Niger, an amount four times lower than the average in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 58 times lower than the OECD average. Although the Nigerien Government has put in place free healthcare for Covid-19 patients, the lack of health facilities and health workers may pose a great challenge for Niger if the number of patients were to increase; there are only 12 hospitals, with 12 anesthesiologists and 12 ventilators for the whole country. Henceforth, containment measures are of utmost importance in the country and are at the center of Niger’s strategy.
- Instability in the Sahel region: The region bordering Mali and Burkina Faso is extremely vulnerable. Along with conflicts, food insecurity and droughts, the Covid-19 crisis worsens the situation. The conflicts present in the Sahel region affect the functioning of health facilities, the transport of merchandises, drives the displacement of people and increases the number of refugees in the surrounding countries, Niger included. Children and women are expected to be the most affected by the situation. Tillaberi and Diffa are the most affected regions by non-State Armed Groups, leading to negative spillovers to other regions (i.e. Tahoua, Dosso, Maradi regions).
- Tensions between State and Religion: Mid-March, the President of Niger announced that mosques must close and that large religious gatherings are not allowed. These measures were taken in order to contain the propagation of Covid-19. Before the start of Ramadan on April 23rd, violent protests arose across the country, denunciating measures taken by the Government and asking for the reopening of mosques. After the start of Ramadan and the actions undertaken by the authorities to prevent mass assemblies, tensions have been dissipating.
- Poverty: According to the Multidimensional Poverty Index (2019), Niger is ranked last (189th) in the world in terms of multidimensional poverty. This emphasizes the vulnerability of the Nigerien population. The Covid-19 crisis is expected to worsen the situation of millions of Nigeriens, by affecting supply and prices of basic commodities; according to the WFP, 2 million people face severe food insecurity in Central Sahel in Niger only. While the agricultural season is starting, farmers are having difficulties to purchase seeds and fertilizers, and access markets, aggravating an already critical situation.
- Economic impact: The Covid-19 crisis is likely to affect global financial flows and therefore adversely affect Niger. According to the World Bank, global remittances are expected to decline by 20% due to Covid-19 and the following economic crisis. Niger’s population relies heavily on such flows and a decline in remittances is expected to have a drastic impact on poorest households. Furthermore, the crisis may have an impact on Niger’s trade, constituted mostly of primary commodities. A shift in demand from its main trade partners may thus have a dramatic impact on Niger’s trade balance and economy.
Potential actions and demands
- Numerous Muslims in Niger oppose the closure of mosques, announced on March 19th. In rural areas especially, where it is difficult to enforce the law, some mosques remain opened against Government’s guidelines. In large cities, believers gathered in public spaces to pray. The authorities took action in some cases, arresting Imams and dispersing crowds. On April 17th, in Niamey, violent demonstrations took place, with protesters expressing discontent regarding containment measures and asking the government to reopen mosques. Dozens of protesters were arrested. With the start of Ramadan and with the introduction of a relaxed curfew in Niamey, tensions were appeased. Some stakeholders – including the Crisis Group – ask the government to reopen mosques while enforcing social distancing measures, to prevent mass gatherings in unsafe conditions and prevent violent manifestations.
- The Nigerien Government works closely with the WHO in its decision-making process regarding the Covid-19 crisis. The coordination with the WHO enabled the Government to provide a strong response to the health crisis, share information with United Nations agencies, and mobilize donors.
Contributor(s): Sarah Bodart.