School fire in Niger: trapped children die in Niamey

The remains of desks are all that are left of the hut classrooms

At least 20 children have died after being trapped in a fire at a school in Niger’s capital, Niamey.

It started late Tuesday afternoon when the kids were in class, most of them in hut classrooms.

The flames blocked the school door, so most of the students had to escape through a wall, a teachers’ union official quoted by Reuters said.

Most of those who failed to escape attended the school’s nursery, officials said.

Government-run primary and preschools in the city’s Netherlands district had a mix of brick and straw-hut classrooms, BBC Hausa’s Tchima Illa Issoufou reports from Niamey.

A total of 28 straw classrooms were completely destroyed and some of the school’s 30 permanent classrooms were also damaged, she said.

School scene in Niger shows remains of desks - Wednesday April 14, 2021

The fire also raged in some of the brick classrooms

Hut classrooms are often built as overflow areas for lessons in schools when there aren’t enough bricks, our reporter says.

Fire brigade commander Sidi Mohamed told state television that firefighters got to the scene quickly, but “the firepower was enormous,” AFP news agency reports.

The parents were waiting at the Dutch primary school on Wednesday morning to find out about the arrangements for the burial of their children, says our journalist.

Parents at school in Niger - Wednesday April 14, 2021

Parents whose children have died gathered at school

Muslim burials usually take place within 24 hours of a death.

A man who lost his six-year-old son to the fire urged the government to build safe schools for children.

“Let’s not put everything in the hands of God, let’s not put everything in the hands of the state,” he told the BBC.

“We lost 20 children in a fraction of a second – we have to call on the state to say that hut classes should no longer exist anywhere in the country.”

The burnout scene at school in Niger - Wednesday April 14, 2021

Some parents called on the government to stop using huts as classrooms

The head of the teachers’ union, Mounkaila Halidou, said about 800 students attend the school.

“Those who died were mostly in preschool,” he said.

It is not yet known what caused the fire.

Niger is the poorest country in the world, according to the UN development ranking for 189 countries.

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