Niger & Sahel Backgrounder

Published on 19 August 2010

OVERVIEW - With millions of people facing hunger in Niger caused by a combination of drought, poor harvests and high food prices, WFP is scaling up to reach almost 8 million people with food assistance over the next 6 months.

Following two surveys (in May and June) indicating increased malnutrition rates – especially among young children –WFP began a major round of food distributions in August to feed 670,000 children with nutritious rations and to provide their families with a ration of staple foods.

WFP has appealed for US$213 million to assist 7.9 million people until the end of the year.  As of mid-August, WFP is 65 percent funded, facing a shortfall of US$75 million.  An additional US$9 million is required for logistics support to provide air services to the whole humanitarian community– but this operation is currently only 30 percent funded.

Households with children under two will receive both specialist supplementary feeding products to boost nutrition and a general ration of staple foods.  This is to ensure the children receive the nutritional products designed for them and avoid the nutritional benefit being divided among family members. 
WFP will continue providing life-saving supplementary food to more than 455,000 moderately malnourished children under five as well as 105,000 mothers through health centres.

A pilot cash transfer project is planned to provide an incentive to more than 38,500 people to participate in community level land recovery activities in rural areas.
In areas badly affected by the drought, such as Diffa, Maradi, Zinder and Tahoua, one in five children in the under-5 age group is malnourished.  A recent outbreak of cholera in Diffa region and floods in Tahoua and Zinder have worsened the situation for the vulnerable young.
WFP’s decision to expand its operations is based on the dramatic nutritional deterioration, following a government ‘Household Food Security’ survey published in May, and the ‘Nutrition and Child Survival’ survey conducted in June which found that Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) among under-fives in Niger is 16.7 percent, compared to a rate of 12.3 percent in 2009 – well beyond the 15 percent threshold considered an emergency by the World Health Organization.
WFP has been procuring food regionally (e.g. Benin, Togo, Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire, Mali and Nigeria). Some food has been purchased in South Africa. It generally takes from 2-3 months from purchase to food distribution.
A consignment of Plumpy’Nut (a specially-designed nutritional product for the under twos) has been airlifted into landlocked Niger from Europe, while a further shipment is coming through Lomé in Togo.  Cotonou port in Benin is the closest, but is heavily congested.

WFP is boosting its logistics capacity with an expansion of its trucking fleet for transport of food across the country. More warehousing is being found at commune level for quicker distribution to villages.  WFP is working together with 24 national and international partners (NGOs).
With the rainy season underway, it is increasingly difficult to move significant volumes of food assistance across this vast, landlocked country.


The food situation in Niger has many similarities to neighbouring countries in the Sahel. However, an underlying set of factors make Niger more vulnerable to food insecurity. These include: Extreme poverty -- the country ranks bottom in the 2009 UNDP Human Development Index; a large part 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. 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. And it also has 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. 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.