In the middle of Annur camp, in north-east Nigeria, a lone tree stands as a stark reminder of a devastating inferno. Its charred bark tells a haunting tale that traces back to 8 March 2023, a date that is etched in the memories of Annur’s residents. On that day, their world was abruptly plunged into chaos as flames devoured their homes and all their belongings. Now, the community is starting to recover, with help from an NRC project.
Annur camp was home to over 100 families, most of whom had fled from the nearby area of Marte nearly eight years earlier. It was a settlement made up of structures built with tarpaulin.
All the basic amenities that the residents needed were within reach around their small community. Having fled their homes due to the encroachment of non-state armed groups, they had become heavily reliant on humanitarian aid, with some struggling to secure sporadic employment to sustain their families.
Then came the fire. Caused by stray sparks from a welding machine, it raged through the camp, leaving the residents with nothing, They lost their shelters, clothing, water supply, and the food they had painstakingly saved. For many, the clothes on their backs were all that remained.
“We were unable to get anything from our home. The whole camp was razed to the ground in under 25 minutes. We were scared and some have been greatly scarred by the accident,” says Halla Mohammed who, with his wife Halimah, told us of their experience.
In the aftermath, the residents embarked on the daunting task of constructing makeshift shelters using dried leaves and woven thatch known as zanna. The camp once again became their haven, a place they could call home, albeit far removed from the communities they once knew.
“We put together makeshift shelters with zanna, and we used tarpaulin to cover the tops,” recounts camp leader Shettima.
However, their ordeal was far from over. The fires had struck just before the rainy season, and when the rains came, leaking shelters became another challenge.
“We would stay awake as long as the rains fell because all our shelters were leaking. Sometimes, we had to cram many people inside, making it very uncomfortable for us,” recalls Shettima.
To compound their hardships, their water source, located right in front of the camp, was also destroyed in the fire.
Green shoots of recovery
Yet, the same solitary tree that bore the scars of devastation now offers a glimpse of hope as fresh green shoots emerge at its base. Signs of life are gradually returning to Annur camp, thanks to recent efforts to construct new transitional shelters for its 104 families and rehabilitate the water source.
“Now things are better,” says Shettima. “We don’t have to worry about the rain anymore. The shelters are enough to shield us from the weather. Look, they added woven thatch to the roof to keep us cool even in the hot weather.”
While Shettima and the other residents are appreciative of the support from the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), they remain mindful of the challenges that persist.
“Yes, it’s true that we now have shelter and water. Even the latrines that were destroyed by the fire have been rebuilt. Some of us can find work helping others with farming. But some have no means of employment,” Shettima laments. In this close-knit community, people rely on each other to provide support to those most vulnerable.
Despite the challenges, however, community morale has improved.
“Most of us have now forgotten what happened that day. We do not feel sad anymore. We are more hopeful now than before. We now know better how to protect ourselves from such situations again,” says Halimah, with a smile on her face.
Sowing the seeds of sustainable living
In addition to building new shelters, NRC has been actively involved in training and skills-building activities. This is part of our commitment to empower and support the people affected by the fire in Annur camp and to reduce future risks.
We successfully trained 104 men and women on safety in the home. We also held special training sessions on creating a comfortable living environment, which covered important things like fire safety, cooking, and how to plan living spaces. Now, the camp residents have taken it upon themselves to run daily sessions on best practice when using fire and how to protect their homes.
The scars on the tree may remain, but they are now accompanied by fresh life, echoing the resilience of Annur camp’s residents as they rebuild their lives.
About the funding
The USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, in partnership with the International Rescue Committee and the Danish Refugee Council, funds a multi-year and multi-sectoral response in Jere and Maiduguri municipal councils.
This consortium-led intervention enables NRC to provide essential assistance to those affected by conflict and disasters across various sectors. With this funding, we can effectively respond to the urgent needs of those caught in emergencies, offering a lifeline to the most vulnerable.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Norwegian Refugee Council.