With the unloading this week of the first in a series of 10 airlifts of emergency food aid to Niger, WFP has moved into the most critical phase of its emergency operation to feed 2.5 million people who are caught in the grip of severe food shortages.
A total of 950 tons of highly nutritious corn soya blend (CSB) is being airlifted aboard chartered Boeing 747s and an Ilyushin-76, until 23 August, to Niger's capital, Niamey, from Brindisi, Italy, through WFP's Humanitarian Response Depot (UNHRD) there. The CSB - which is given to young children, pregnant women and nursing mothers - complements WFP's general food distributions which got underway earlier this week at village level.
In this first round of free distributions, 4,694 people received WFP rations on Monday and Tuesday in villages around Ouallam, some 90 km north of the capital, Niamey. In Maradi, WFP has begun distributions with NGO partners World Vision and CARE International, as well as in Keita, near Tahoua - one of the most affected areas.
"Since many families now rely on only one meal a day, having used up all their food reserves, these rations are delivered just in time," said Khaled Adly, acting WFP Regional Director, West Africa, who visited Keita this week.
WFP is working closely with the Government and NGO partners to reach all the 2.65 million people which the Government's National Early Warning System has declared are in urgent need of food aid. During this first round of distributions, WFP aims to provide food aid to 1.85 million people, with the Government and NGOs PLAN and Catholic Relief Services covering the remaining 800,000 needy people. A second round is planned next month, before the October harvest.
"We are pulling out all the stops to feed our beneficiaries as fast as possible over the next six weeks," said Adly. "That means not only flying in the most urgent food, CSB, but also increasing the number of road convoys carrying rice from the port of Lome, in neighbouring Togo in addition to hastening the arrival of trucks loaded with maize from Cotonou, in Benin."
Last month, more than 100 tons of High Energy Biscuits were airlifted into Niger from Brindisi by WFP and its corporate partner, TPG/TNT, the global mail, express and logistics company. These biscuits have already been distributed in several places across the worst affected areas.
"You can see the effect these biscuits are having on the kids almost immediately," said Adly. "Not to mention the look of relief on their parents' faces."
"The generosity of donor countries and individuals has been tremendous over the past three weeks, but we still need more contributions to ensure that the people of Niger have enough food to get them through to the harvest in about 10 weeks' time," Adly said.
Private donors have once again shown their commitment and capacity to react quickly; in addition to a strong response from individuals around the world to WFP operations via the website, many private donors such as TNT, Veolia, Petronas, the International Rugby Board (IRB), SAP and the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry are providing invaluable support including airlifts, food and cash.