Food aid distributions continue in Niger

Published on 29 September 2005

With the completion this week of the first round of free food distributions to some 1.7 million people in Niger, WFP has confirmed that the most vulnerable are now receiving a second ration to help alleviate further suffering and deprivation.

“We are at full speed and should have the second round finished by early October – on time,” said Gian Carlo Cirri, WFP Niger Country Director.

“We are also ensuring that those who still need assistance beyond the harvest are not left to fend for themselves.”

Second round

WFP has now dispatched all the food necessary for the first round of distributions and half of what is needed for the second round (more than 47,000 metric tonnes).

The situation has already started to ease for many people – only a handful of villages have yet to receive food.

In the second round of free distributions, WFP will deliver a ration of cereals and pulses to 1.7 million of the most needy.

Twin-track approach

The bottom line is, where people are still going hungry, we are doing all we can to assist them and will continue to do so

Gian Carlo Cirri, WFP Niger Country Director

In a twin-track approach to the crisis, WFP is also continuing to dispatch large quantities of mineral-rich corn-soya blend (CSB) to nutritional centres across the country.

The CSB is not only for moderately malnourished children under treatment, but also for their mothers and young siblings, ensuring benefit to as many vulnerable people as possible.

Complex problem

However, the chronic, long-term problem of malnutrition among young children in Niger is extremely complex and will not be solved by food aid alone.

Although some farmers have already started to harvest their crops – predominantly millet – market prices remain very high compared with the five-year average.

After a season of good rains, the indications are for a good harvest.

Monitoring the markets

WFP is closely monitoring the markets to ensure that the second round of free food distributions are carefully targeted to the poorest and most in need and do not adversely affect prices.

“We have to maintain a fine balance between continuing to help those in need and not undermining in any way the livelihoods of poor farmers who sell part of their crop to raise money for their other needs.

"The bottom line is, where people are still going hungry, we are doing all we can to assist them and will continue to do so,” said Cirri.

Post-harvest strategy

Niger cannot be allowed to live as if cursed by poverty. There is a way out

Gian Carlo Cirri, WFP Niger Country Director

Reports from assessment teams currently in the field will form the basis of WFP’s post-harvest strategy, allowing the poorest families most in need of food aid to continue to benefit from WFP assistance.

These are likely to include people who experience crop failure, those who are heavily in debt, and those like Niger’s nomadic people who do not stand to reap any immediate benefit from the harvest and who have seen many of their cattle die.

Short-term respite

Although all the preliminary signs are positive for a good harvest, it will provide only short-term respite from the structural problem of food scarcity that many people in Niger face every year.

WFP’s continuing programmes in Niger, designed to address these deep-rooted needs, reached 426,000 people in 2004.

Last year, WFP doubled the number of children receiving free school meals to over 50,000 in nearly 500 schools. WFP also has projects in place to help farmers develop small irrigation projects and learn adapted agricultural techniques.

Way out for Niger

More funding for projects of this nature would give poor Nigeriens the means to fend for themselves in bad years, rather than rely on outside assistance.

“If anything good can come from this terrible crisis, the world might now know what a desperate struggle many people face here every year.

"Niger cannot be allowed to live as if cursed by poverty. There is a way out, but it will require substantial commitment and investment over the long term,” said Cirri.