At least 26 schoolchildren were reported to have been burnt to death and 13 others suffering different degrees of burns in southern region of Niger Republic, barely seven months after a similar tragedy occurred in Niamey, the country’s capital.
The schoolchildren burnt to death were reported to be between the ages of five and six and were said to have been burnt while learning in their wooden classrooms.
As gathered, the fire started when their straw and wood classrooms caught fire, and efforts by the entire schoolchildren to escape from being trapped as well as not sustaining burns within the learning facility proved abortive.
Confirming the death toll to newsmen on Tuesday, the Mayor of Maradi city, Chaibou Aboubacar, disclosed that of the 13 pupils currently hospitalised, four suffered high degrees of burns, just as he said that the tragedy occurred yesterday.
Following the inferno yesterday, the country’s government has declared three days of mourning across the Maradi region and urged that the citizens pray for other children’s survival.
Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, has tried to fix shortages of school buildings by constructing thousands of straw and woodsheds to serve as classrooms, with children sometimes sitting on the ground.
Before this tragedy, 20 children were burnt to death during a school fire in a working-class district of Niamey last April, marking the second within the year in the Niger Republic.
“This tragic event once again puts the Nigerien people in mourning,” the government said in a statement and added that straw and wood classrooms would henceforth be banned across the country.
The secretary-general of the Niger Teachers’ Union, Issoufou Arzika, told newsmen that the fire that claimed the lives of the pupils had “decimated” the school in Maradi.
Arzika said his union had alerted officials to the danger of the straw and wood classrooms after the Niamey fire, but they were yet to respond before the Maradi incident, saying, it is better to hold classes under trees than in straw huts, which have become flammable graves for pupils.