School children die in fire

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At least 25 schoolchildren died on Monday when a straw and wood classroom was engulfed in a fire in southern Niger, authorities said.

The students, aged five to six were attending classes in Maradi, more than 600km east of Niamey, Niger’s capital.

Fourteen other students were reportedly injured in Monday’s fire that destroyed three other straw hut classrooms at the school. Some are said to be in critical condition.

It is unclear what caused the tragic fire.

Niger a vast, arid state on the edge of the Sahara desert struggles in the face of frequent droughts, insurgency and socio-economic difficulties.

The country’s government tried to fix shortages of school buildings by building overflow classrooms made of wood and straw to accommodate all school children.

Monday’s fire is the second time this year a blaze has killed schoolchildren in the West African country. In April, twenty pre-school children died in a fire in Niamey, after being trapped behind school gates.

Following the latest fire incident, classes are suspended and three days of mourning declared in Maradi, said regional director of education, Maman Hdi.

UNICEF country representative for Niger, Stefano Savi, expressed sadness over the loss of life in the tragic fire.

“UNICEF received initial information indicating several children were killed or injured in the fire. Our hearts are with the children and families affected. Our most sincere condolences to families of the victims and their communities.”

Stressing  “no child should ever be in danger when learning in school,” he added the UN Children’s Fund will continue to work with national authorities and partners across the country “to ensure children can attend school and learn in safe environments.”