Niger is faced with a serious food crisis. After launching an appeal for international assistance while facilitating the mobilization of NGOs and donors, in March, the ruling junta has achieved very little in mitigating the impact of the crisis.
Three months after the government of Niger called for international assistance the food crisis in the West African country “is growing worse”. The statement was made last week by the European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, Kristalina Georgieva. After seizing power in February in a coup d’état against President Mamadou Tandja, the junta declared a state of critical food insecurity on March 11 and appealed for international assistance. The initiative facilitated the mobilization of NGO’s and donor agencies, but their efforts have proved inadequate at a delicate moment, that is; the beginning of the lean season — which begins in June with the agricultural season and ends in September with the harvest. Niger is facing a growing food crisis after a failed harvest season in 2009, a year that was marked by drought.
A better organized help
Most NGOs in Niger, however, believe that humanitarian aid is organized and better prepared than in 2005 when the famine affected some 2.4 million people and killed more 100 000. “Due to the large quantities of grain injected into sale circuits at moderate prices as well as free food distribution, the situation of vulnerable rural and urban populations has improved,” Ibrahim Maman Tantan, a representative of FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organization) in Niger, told Afrik-news.com. As part of its program to support emergency seed, the UN agency is contributing 3,009 tons of improved millet, cowpea and sorghum seeds. “That is, 84% of the government’s initial demand,” says Mr. Tantan. In what concerns aid in the area of livestock feed, — primarily directed towards areas that are most affected by forage shortages, — more than 6,000 tons have been allotted to all the regions of the country. “With the recently acquired new funding, FAO should cover up to 143% of the stated needs,” says Mr. Tantan.
Women and children first
And the World Food Programme (WFP) appears not to have been caught by surprise. “We saw it coming,” Aline Samu, the organization’s information officer in Niger told Afrik-news.com. “We started seeking funds very early. We also launched our nutrition activities in January. The 2005 food crisis served us a lesson,” she says. Through a nutritional support program, WFP pays special attention to mothers and vulnerable children who receive specific items, including palm oil and a mixture of wheat flour and soya bean. These items are not available in large quantities in the region, and are often imported from other continents.
“The problem with international purchase is that it takes time”, says Aline Samu. “From the time we receive confirmation of the contribution and the time the food arrives… it takes 3 to 5 months”. The WFP also carries relief activities among the population: This consists of the distribution of locally acquired food items available in neighboring countries.
And even if a little more than a million people have so far benefited from the program, its objectives have not been reached due to the lack of resources. “For the time being, we have only conducted two rounds of distribution. During the first round, we were only able to distribute grains although we had forecasted a more furnished food basket. During the second round, we were able to add beans,” said Aline Samu.
Hunger on faces
WFP has requested $82 million for its operations in Niger until December 2010. Till date, only 51% of their appeal for contributions have been met. The FAO, on the other hand, has received 53% of the assistance funding requested. Only “in Maradi (South Niger), 3 million people are suffering serious food needs. (…) The Hunger can be read on the faces of people “, said Kristalina Georgieva during a recent visit to Niamey. According to UN estimates, more than 7 million people in Niger, that is, more than half the population, are in dire need of food. Some 10 million people are affected by the food crisis in the Sahel region.