As the food security situation worsens in the Eastern Sahel region, WFP is stepping up its interventions in Niger to meet the needs of more than two million hungry people. WFP is planning, for the period from May to October, to provide food for an estimated 2.3 million people under a Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation, said WFP’s West Africa Regional Bureau Director Thomas Yanga.
“The West African country of Niger, one of the poorest in the world, is facing a serious food security emergency,” he said. “Growing numbers of people are going hungry because of poor harvests following failed rains last year.”
This year, the May-September ‘lean season’ has started much earlier than usual and it is expected to be harsher than usual. This is because poor and erratic rainfall has affected agricultural production and pasture availability in the Eastern Sahel. The food security crisis is being aggravated by high prices, low wages and people selling off their livestock to make ends meet.
WFP’s expanded operation in Niger aims to reduce high malnutrition rates among vulnerable groups with life-saving interventions such as general food distributions (blanket feeding) for children under the age of two, and targeting children under the age of five with supplementary food to boost their nutritional status. It will also provide supplementary feeding for pregnant women and nursing mothers, as well as supporting cereal banks and agricultural production.
In mid-January, the government released the results of a rapid household survey which found that 7.8 million people in Niger are “food-insecure”. The worst hit areas include Tahoua, Diffa, Zinder and Tillabery. In March, the government announced a Support Plan, and requested food and cash assistance for 3.4 million people it considered as priority cases living in the most vulnerable areas.
On April 7, the UN agencies announced an Emergency Humanitarian Action Plan to tackle the crisis, and appealed for US$190 million from the international community. The government, along with WFP, Unicef and other partners, began conducting a full-scale vulnerability assessment to review the extent and magnitude of the situation. And in May, another survey will be carried out into nutrition at a community level.
To scale up emergency assistance to the most vulnerable people, WFP is appealing for US$182 million. So far, around half that figure has been received and the operation is facing a funding shortfall of US$ 96 million. WFP needs funds to procure food quickly in the surrounding region. In Niger, a vast and landlocked country, it can take three to four months to source commodities internationally and get them into position. To shorten the lead time and encourage local agriculture, WFP aims to procure food such as maize, sorghum, millet pulses and salt on regional markets.
WFP is also boosting its logistics capacity to strengthen its ability to supply, store and transport urgently needed food assistance and to help coordinate logistics for the humanitarian community at large.
In addition to operations addressing the needs of people hit directly by the drought, WFP is providing assistance to hundreds of thousands of people in Niger with a country programme that provides children with school meals and includes projects to assist people affected by HIV and tuberculosis.
The food crisis in Niger is affecting a number of countries in the Eastern Sahel (Chad, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Cameroon). However, an underlying set of factors makes Niger more vulnerable to food insecurity. These include:
- Extreme poverty -- the country ranks bottom in the 2009 UNDP Human Development Index.
- 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 large part of the population is dependent on subsistence farming.
- Malnutrition rates in Niger are high: Ten percent of children under five suffer from acute malnutrition and 44 percent of children suffer from chronic malnutrition.
- A harsh environment is 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. 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, sales of livestock and other assets, higher than normal emigration as well as rising levels of acute malnutrition and admissions to health centres.