Niger has a population of approximately 13 million inhabitants and was ranked 174 out of 177 countries by UNDP’s Human Development Index in 2008.
Some 59.5 percent of the population is living below the poverty line. Agriculture is the engine of Niger’s weak economy, with 82 percent of the population relying on farming. The malnutrition rates in Niger are elevated; ten percent of children under five suffer from acute malnutrition and 44 percent of children suffer from chronic malnutrition.
Social indicators are also low: life expectancy at birth is only 44.7 years and the child mortality rate is 20 percent, suggesting that one in five children will never reach the age of five. Poor school attendance, especially among girls, contributes to Niger’s 71 percent illiteracy rate. In 2005, Niger suffered from a severe food security crisis aggravated by drought and locust invasions.
With a reduction in food availability and people’s ability to purchase what food there was, the crisis resulted in a drastic reduction in household food consumption, distress sales of livestock and other assets, higher than normal emigration as well as rising levels of acute malnutrition and admissions to health centres.
Thanks to the effective partnership between the government and humanitarian organizations, the first positive results have been seen.
According to the latest nutrition survey conducted jointly by the government, UNICEF and WFP, the rate of global acute malnutrition has decreased from 15 to 10 percent since November 2005 and the latest Government/WFP/FAO/UNICEF/FEWS-Net food security survey indicates that the proportion of households in severe food insecurity decreased from 15 to 9 percent during the same period.
The experience gained during the emergency intervention of 2005 demonstrated the urgency to rebuild and strengthen government capacities in supporting and coordinating emergency interventions. Therefore, WFP saw the need to have its Emergency Operation (EMOP) followed by a Protracted Relief and Rehabilitation Operation (PRRO) in order to rebuild and strengthen coping capacities of the affected populations and to reinforce government emergency structures. In this context, the PRRO was launched on 1 April 2006 for a period of 18 months.
Through this operation, WFP mainly targets malnourished children and their families with nutritional activities but also food insecure households with food for work and food for training activities. With a total budget of 49.2 million US dollars, the operation will reach 3.3 million beneficiaries, over 70 percent of whom are malnourished children and their families, with 61,300 mt of food aid.
The first objective of the PRRO addresses the most critical aspect of underdevelopment in Niger, child malnutrition. Through the PRRO, WFP provides supplementary feeding rations for moderately malnourished children and ‘blanket’ supplementary feeding, in collaboration with UNICEF, to all children from 0-3 years old in the most vulnerable areas of the country to cover the most critical moments of the lean season.
WFP is also working with nutritional partners to support to malnourished pregnant and nursing women. In addition to nutrition activities, the PRRO includes food for training aimed at improving the self-help capacities and development planning of village communities and village cereal banks planned to help reduce the risk of excessive price fluctuations in regions with poor access to the private markets.
Finally, the PRRO also includes a contingency stock that could be used for targeted free food distributions, based on the food security situation in the country. Besides the PRRO, WFP’s ongoing Country Programme (CP) continues to be implemented. This operation aims at improving the food security and living conditions of vulnerable populations through health, education and rural development activities.
On average the CP targets about 400,000 beneficiaries per year with 14,00 mt of food aid. In order to improve the government’s capacity to monitor food security, WFP, together with other partners, provides technical support to the National Early Warning System of the Nation Food Security Mechanism. Activities include regular monitoring support of the food security situation, joint assessments and joint evaluation missions.