More food to the most needy in Niger

Published on 15 September 2005

With the harvest still several weeks away in most areas of Niger, WFP is ready to start a second round of food aid distributions that will target the people most in need of assistance across the country.

“As the first round of distributions moves into its final phase, we are set to provide a second batch of food to those in greatest need,” said Gian Carlo Cirri, WFP Niger Country Director.

“While we’ve already made a real impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of desperate people, our work continues.”

Targeting the most vulnerable

In the second round of food distributions, which will start in Maradi on Sunday, WFP is targeting the 1.7 million people considered most vulnerable in Niger with a ration of cereals and pulses. This assistance is intended to help them through to the harvest – the point at which they should once more become largely self-sufficient.

WFP is making good progress on completing the first round of distributions, having reached more than 1.2 million out of its target of 1.8 million people. Distributions carried out by the government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Plan International and Catholic Relief Services, aim to reach the balance of those in need – a further 1.2 million people.

Logistical challenge

Despite often appalling road conditions and the logistical challenge of moving huge quantities of food across vast distances, at least 1,300 metric tons of food is leaving for distribution points each day – enough to feed 75,000 people per day.

WFP now has a dedicated fleet of 170 trucks, in addition to the trucking capacity of its NGO partners.

Assessments continue to ensure that distributions reach all those who are vulnerable at this time. Coordination between the National Food Security Mechanism, WFP, other UN agencies and NGOs is allowing additional villages and nomadic communities to be included in the distribution plan.

Monitoring the markets

WFP will maintain dispatches to its partners until early October, when widespread free distributions will cease in order to ensure markets are not adversely affected by the presence of food aid – a market monitoring system is in place to provide the necessary data on cereal prices.

Distributions will stop at different times in various parts of the country, depending on how crops have matured across the agricultural belt.

Increased threat of disease

Tragically, young children continue to die. Conditions have deteriorated as the rains have persisted, bringing the increased threat of diseases such as malaria, cholera and diarrhea.

Dangerously unclean water, a lack of primary healthcare, pregnancy at an extremely young age and the abrupt weaning of babies off breast milk all play a part in the rapid descent into illness and malnutrition.

'Protection ration'

To bolster efforts to address the needs of the most vulnerable, WFP is working with UNICEF and NGOs to provide a ‘protection ration’ of mineral-enriched corn-soya blend, oil and sugar to the families of malnourished children being treated at feeding centres.

Sufficient to cover the immediate requirements of five children, it is designed to ensure that the malnourished child’s treatment ration is not divided amongst the family. WFP is also providing food for pregnant and breastfeeding women in partnership with the UN's Population Fund.

Contingency stock

WFP is planning to retain a contingency stock to cover the needs of those who still require assistance after the harvest – many will experience only partial relief; others will remain as needy as before.

Combating this year’s food shortages has forced large sections of society into crushing debt, which will need to be paid off. Other nomadic people have lost catastrophic numbers of cattle, completely depleting their terms of exchange and leaving them effectively bankrupt. In some areas, the crops may not yield a good harvest.

Targeted distributions

As a result, WFP expects to maintain distributions, but in a targeted manner. Information driving these distributions will be available through an emergency assessment of food needs starting this week and backed up by a further comprehensive assessment in October.

This will allow WFP to evaluate the current food security situation in Niger as well as the outlook for the next six months.

The poorest of the poor

“We are in a better position than ever before to provide the poorest of the poor with what they need and to begin to address the structural, chronic issue of poverty in Niger.

"The world must not turn away from Niger in search of the next disaster – if we do not commit ourselves to Niger for the long term, we will find ourselves back in the same position all too soon,” said Cirri.