OVERVIEW - Millions of people are facing hunger in Niger caused by a combination of drought, poor harvests, and high food prices. A dramatic deterioration of the nutrition situation has led to the World Food Programme (WFP) significantly expandings its programme with a sharp focus on the needs of malnourished children.
WFP is aiming to reach almost 8 million people with food assistance over the next 6 months. The expanded operation will provide special nutritionally enhanced products to approximately 1 million malnourished children under 2 years of age, while their families will receive standard food rations.
The expanded programme seeks to address the results of two surveys showing that the number of people facing hunger in Niger had dramatically increased beyond earlier assessment : the annual Nutrition and Child Survival survey released on 24 June - which highlight a serious deterioration in the nutritional status of children under five - and the government ‘Household Food Security’ published in May.
The Nutrition and Child Survival survey found that the Global Acute Malnutrition* (GAM) rate among under-fives in Niger is 16.7 percent, compared to a rate of 12.3 percent in 2009. This means it has gone well beyond the 15 percent threshold considered an emergency by the World Health Organization.
In areas badly affected by the drought, ( Diffa, Maradi, Zinder and Tahoua), one in five children in the under 5 age group is malnourished. The average infant mortality rate is still less than 2 per 10,000 (the critical threshold) in most areas, but it has exceeded the 2 per 10,000 in the Tahoua region. The risk of high infant mortality rates is real.
WFP’s Emergency Operation aims to reduce high malnutrition rates among vulnerable groups. It will provide blanket supplementary feeding to almost 1 million children under the age of two.
Households with children under two will receive both specialist supplementary feeding products to boost nutrition and a general ration of staple foods. The idea is to make sure the children receive the nutritional products designed for them and to avoid the nutritional benefit being diluted by being divided among family members.
A government-led food security survey in May confirmed nearly half of the population to be food insecure -- 3.3 million people highly food insecure and 3.8 million moderately food insecure.
This year, the May-September ‘lean season’ started much earlier than usual and has been particularly harsh. Poor and erratic rainfall has affected agricultural production and pasture availability throughout the Eastern Sahel.
To scale up its work in Niger WFP is appealing for US$213 million. Currently it is less than half funded and faces a shortfall of US$145million.
WFP needs immediate cash contributions from donors to procure food quickly ahead of August and September when the needs of the population are likely to peak.
Niger is a vast, landlocked country, and procuring and transporting food for delivery there is difficult. WFP is in the process of procuring food from neighbouring countries so that it can be moved quickly to where it is needed in Niger.
Food needs to be transported into remote areas that suppliers cannot always reach. This is only going to become more challenging as the rainy season gets underway.
The food situation in Niger has many similarities to that found in neighbouring countries in the eastern Sahel (Chad, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Cameroon). However, an underlying set of factors make Niger more vulnerable to food insecurity:
• Extreme poverty -- the country ranks bottom in the 2009 UNDP Human Development Index.
• A large proportion of the population is dependent on subsistence farming.
• Niger has one of the highest rates of population increase in the world.
• Cereal prices have remained above the pre-food price crisis levels of two years ago.
• A harsh environment, made even worse by climate change and the poor management of environmental resources.
In 2005, Niger suffered from a severe food security crisis aggravated by drought and locust invasions. The crisis resulted in a dramatic reduction in household food consumption, sales of livestock and other assets, higher than normal emigration as well as rising levels of acute malnutrition and admissions to health centres.