NIGER - July 20 - It is estimated that 3.5 million people will face food shortages this year in the Sahel region of West Africa.|
The semi-arid region was devastated last year by the worst locust invasion in 15 years, resulting in vast destruction of staple crops due to be harvested, including maize, sorghum and millet.
The situation in Niger
Niger is the second poorest country in the world with 63% of its population living on less than a 60pence a day and its 11 million people being mainly dependent on subsistence agriculture. In Niger, the locust swarms ravaged vast stretches of farm and grazing land, which together with localised drought and an early end to the rainy season, have contributed to create a national food security crisis.
International organisations, including World Food Programme, have expressed serious concerns about the danger of an imminent food crisis in the country. A recent assessment by the Cellule de Crise Alimentaire a government body - revealed a national net cereal deficit of over 223,000 tons. This equates to 100% of the 2004 crops in some areas.
Increase in food prices following the shortages in stock over the last years have resulted in nationwide protests and social unrest, as price hikes have made impossible for poor families to feed their children. Food prices in March 2005 were 46% higher than in the same period in 2003.
A reduction in food consumption is now taking place, with children beginning to show signs of severe malnutrition, making them more vulnerable to disease and illness. An evaluation study has revealed that 42% of children under the age of 3 are undernourished.
People are migrating. They are leaving their villages in search of prospects for food and work in large cities as well as neighbouring countries like Ghana, Nigeria and Benin, causing disruption to the education of their children.
Nutrition coordinator explaining to some of the women how to manage the food
Plan has been working in Niger since 1996 and following requests from local and national government; we have been working to improve food security in 14 villages in the devastated Tillabery with approximately 3,111 families, focusing on ensuring relief nutrition to 7,000 children. Our activities include:
- Providing communities in the 14 affected villages with cereal, powder milk, spirulina, sugar, vitamin A and de-worming tablets. As a result 655 malnourished children under the age of 3 have been rehabilitated.
- The emergency feeding programme has been implemented benefiting 9,411 children between 6 months and 18 years of age.
- Two women per community have been selected to assist in preparing lunch meals to be served daily at schools, encouraging families to keep their children at school and assisting with urgent food supplements for children.
- These women have also received training on hygiene, breastfeeding, adequate supplementary feeding and general health and nutrition-related issues.
- Communities have been provided with 70 tons of cereals, 7,500 litres of oil, sardine, salt and dry beans.
- The emergency food relief is implemented in partnership with women's groups, school management committees and the local government.
- Providing potable water through the creation of boreholes in 5 villages.
- Micronutrients to primary school children is currently being distributed through schools and health centres the micronutrients supplement protein, iron, zinc and vitamin to children.
- In the coming months, nutrition education will be provided via mobile cooking demonstrations, helping families to identify moderate malnourished children and set up a reference system for severely malnourished children.
- Plan is collaborating closely with the development committees in each village responsible for managing the storage of cereals and with the villages womens groups, responsible for the preparation of meals for primary schools. Plan's interventions are further co-ordinated with the local district authorities, the World Food Programme and other UN agencies operating in the area.