Niger Food Drive Reaches Village On The Edge Of Survival

Shaibou is a small farmer in the Zinder region with over 50 grandchildren, who will receive special fortified foods custom tailored to protect them from the lasting damage of childhood malnutrition. Photograph:WFP/Vigno Hounkanali

A massive feeding campaign in drought-stricken Niger is under way. It started in a small village east of the capital. Amont these who came to receive food rations for their families were Hadiza, a mother of four, and Shaibou, a grandfather of 50. For both the food was a life-saver. View video

GAFFATY – The rains in Niger have come just in time to muddy the roads and make transport difficult for the massive operation underway to bring desperately needed food to more than seven million people – and 670,000 children – across the country.

But that didn’t stand in the way of an anxiously awaited WFP food distribution in Gaffaty, a small village in the Zinder region some 800 km from the capital.

Here, food was stocked ahead of time so that it would be ready when it was needed. Most of the people here agree that it’s needed now more than ever.

Dire Straits

WFP is scaling up its operations in Niger to reach almost 8 million people over the next six months with life-saving food assistance.

Hoping and praying

“I don’t even want to think about what we would have done without this food,” said Hazida, whose family has a small piece of land they use to grow millet. She said her husband and four children were working hard to bring in a good harvest this October, but that last season was disastrous and that they’ve been scraping by ever since by selling firewood.

Shaibou, who reckoned he must be close to 70, said his family was also in limbo until the harvest. “The whole village is hoping and praying that we’ll grow enough this time not to go hungry again.”

He said the WFP food provided to his 20 children and around 50 grandchildren would give them the strength and energy to work the fields until then.

Malnutrition emergency

The long drought in the Sahel region of Africa has led to soaring levels of child malnutrition. According to a national survey in June, some 16.7 percent of all children under five do not get the vitamins and nutrients they need to be healthy—the emergency threshold is 15 percent. Find out more

In many of the worst-affected areas, however, the survey pointed to child malnutrition rates in excess of 20 percent.

“People in Niger have suffered intensely from this protracted drought,” said WFP West Africa Spokesman Thomas Yanga. “It’s critical to provide for the needs of these malnourished children." Read the interview

To address the emergency, WFP is targeting under-fives with a specialized blend of corn-soya meal fortified with the micronutrients their growing bodies need. WFP is also providing a ration of staple cereals, pulses and oil to older members of the family to ensure that everyone gets enough.

Clinging on to survival

Nowhere are the scars of drought in Niger deeper than in the pastoral Diffa region, where the bodies of sheep, cattle and even camels bare grim testimony to the hardships facing local herders. Their flocks dwindling and food prices rising, these families are among nearly 8 million people WFP plans to feed this year.  Find out more

 Story by Vigno Hounkanli and Alice Golay