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Scores of women and children die of thirst as convoy breaks down in Sahara desert

At least 80 migrants -- mostly women and children -- have died of thirst in Niger after their trucks broke down in a desolate area of the Sahara desert, activists and officials said Thursday.

The group had been attempting to cross from Niger into neighboring Algeria when they were forced to split up to find water after their two vehicles broke down, activists told NBC News.

Around 20 people managed to walk back to the town of Arlit to inform the authorities. But the corpses of at least 87 people were discovered scattered on the ground and under trees over many miles near the border.

Arlit records average highs of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit from April to September. 

Azauoa Mahaman, coordinator of the local Synergie non-governmental organization, and local rescue worker Almoustapha Alhacen, separately confirmed 87 people had died, seven of whom were men, 33 were women, and 47 were children.

Garba Makido the governor of the Nigerien province of Agadez, also confirmed the incident to NBC News. Although the the mayor of Arlit, Maouli Abdouramane, put the death toll at 92, according to Reuters.

Alhacen told BBC News the corpses were in a severe state of decomposition, and some had been partially eaten, probably by jackals.

He said the discovery was the worst day of his life.

“The corpses were decomposed; it was horrible," he said. “We found bodies across a wide area. We had no idea what to expect because we didn't know how many people had been in the vehicles.”

The migrants had set off in two trucks from Niger’s northern most mining town of Arlit towards Tamanrasset in Algeria in mid-October, officials told Reuters.

The route from Niger to Algeria is a common one among migrants looking for a passage from sub-Saharan Africa to north Africa and beyond to Europe. Some 32,000 migrants arrived in Europe from Africa this year alone.

Most of the people who cross the dunes are young African men in search of work in Europe or north Africa, raising questions about the purpose of the fatal convoy of women and children, Reuters reported.

There has been a slew of high-profile incidents in recent weeks of migrant boats attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa to Italy. One of these boats sank off the island of Lampedusa on Oct.3, killing more than 300 people.

Reuters contributed to this report.