At least 26 schoolchildren have been killed when their classrooms made out of straw and wood were engulfed in a blaze in southern Niger a local governor told the AFP news agency.
“Right now, we have 26 dead and 13 injured, four of them seriously,” said Chaibou Aboubacar, mayor of Maradi city, adding that the children were aged between five and six, according to AFP which reported the news of the blaze on Monday.
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Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, has tried to fix shortages of school buildings by constructing thousands of straw and wood sheds to serve as classrooms, with children sometimes sitting on the ground.
Fires in the highly flammable classrooms are common but rarely result in casualties.
However, 20 schoolchildren were burned to death in a school fire in a working-class district of Niamey in April.
Issoufou Arzika, the secretary-general of the Niger Teachers’ Union, told AFP that Monday’s fire 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.
“It is better to hold classes under trees than in straw huts, which have become flammable graves for pupils,” he said.
President Mohamed Bazoum recently promised to replace the wooden structures.
The school fire comes days after at least 18 people died in a collapsed gold mine in Dan-Issa district in the north of the country.