WFP has urged the international community not to turn its back on the continuing suffering in Niger, as food distributions continue across the worst affected parts of the country, but financial support for WFP’s emergency operation shows worrying signs of tailing off.
Despite a huge surge in support following the international broadcast of television images of the desperate plight of many young children in Niger, WFP has received only two donations in the past two weeks, and its emergency operation remains less than 50 percent funded (US$29.6 million still needed).
“We have to keep Niger on the map,” WFP’s Senior Deputy Executive Director, Jean-Jacques Graisse told a press conference in the Nigerien capital, Niamey.
“We still have a huge task ahead of us and we urge the international community to continue with the kind of support –especially cash donations – that have made a large-scale intervention here possible. Our job is not yet done.”
"Hunger season" reaches peak
WFP is working with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and through the National Food Security Mechanism (the Government/UN agencies/donors) to reach nearly 2.7 million people – many of them young children – in urgent need of food aid as the annual ‘hunger season’ reaches its peak.
Already leading a precarious existence in the second poorest country in the world, many people were pushed over the edge by 2004’s deadly combination of poor rains and locust invasions. This year, a volatile regional food market has forced food prices through the roof.
Free general distributions
For the first round of free general distributions, WFP, the government and NGOs have together dispatched enough food for over a million people. Dispatches and distributions continue on a daily basis, increasing incrementally as both food and partner organisations reach the most needy districts.
WFP has also provided food to 230,000 people through rations given to mothers accompanying malnourished children to nutrition centres.
At this stage, distributions are being targeted to the most stricken villages first, although it is intended that all 2.68 million people in need of assistance will receive food in the first round. In the second round, the 1.7 million people most in need will receive a half ration.
In addition, WFP has airlifted over 1000 metric tons of enriched corn-soya blend (CSB) into Niger which is being used to address the immediate needs of malnourished children being cared for in nutrition centres. The distributions of CSB to children are to continue in partnership with UNICEF and NGOs, from whom both malnourished children and their families will receive rations.
This will ensure the most vulnerable young Nigeriens and their mothers are targeted as a matter of priority. Nearly 100 metric tonnes of high-energy biscuits have also been distributed to over 77,000 children in urgent need of assistance.
Right food, right places
“We are distributing the right food, in the right places. Where it is clear that villages in urgent need do not come under our current distribution plan, we have a strategy to help them, too. Our distribution plan is a living document, not set in stone,” said Graisse.
In order to avoid destabilising local markets, WFP will cease all dispatches of food in early October, by which time most Nigeriens should have access to food again after the first harvests. However, WFP plans to have a contingency stock in place to meet the requirements of half a million people if pockets of need persist beyond the harvest should the funds be available.
Complex food crisis
Niger’s food crisis is complex: weather patterns, food production, markets, technology, sanitation, healthcare, education, child rearing practices and poverty all play their roles.
While the urgency of addressing the immediate situation is clear, ending the cycle of deprivation in Niger and across the Sahel is a long term challenge requiring massive investment and a genuine commitment to eradicating hunger.
More money for development would have mitigated the impact of this year’s crisis on many Nigeriens.
Efforts to address Niger’s chronic hunger problem have routinely faced problems of funding and therefore have often been only small scale. However, through its continuing development programme in Niger, WFP fed 493,000 people this year, distributing 80 percent of its annual tonnage by July after reorienting distributions to target nutrition and care activities for young children and their mothers.
“We cannot allow the poor of Niger simply to drift in a sea of uncertainty every year. Even though the spotlight came late, at least the world is now aware of the battle many people in Niger face every year simply to survive from day to day. We must work together to end this annual Russian roulette,” said Graisse.