By Aviva Altmann, Washington File Staff Writer
Washington - America's latest response to the emergency food crisis in Niger is part of an existing effort that focuses on regional solutions to development issues in the Sahel region of Africa.
The recent announcement of $7.5 million more in food aid to Niger by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is related to a larger American program -- the West Africa Regional Program (WARP), worth $40 million -- designed to focus on regional development on the continent.
The WARP initiative is run by USAID, which has provided more than $127 million in overall assistance in 2005 to help improve the lives of the people in the Sahel, according to an August 3 USAID press release. WARP reflects the U.S. policy of working through regional organizations in Africa as much as possible to foster homegrown development partnerships.
The Sahelian countries benefit from WARP through participation in development programs operated by the West African Economic and Monetary Union, the Economic Community of West African States and the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel.
WARP aims to fight poverty by dealing specifically with four issues: fostering regional trade; increasing the effectiveness of health policy, including HIV/AIDS; improving food security and management of natural resources; and improving peace in western Africa, the USAID release said.
Much of the $127 million USAID has devoted to programs in the Sahel is now aimed at the more than 3.6 million people affected by locust and drought problems -- $14 million funded locust eradication programs, which included aerial spraying of 383,000 hectares and assistance to regional responders across North and West Africa.
In response to the recent food crisis in Niger, USAID has increased humanitarian aid to the country by more than half. The agency plans to contribute approximately $13.5 million in humanitarian aid to Niger, specifically focused on food security, agriculture and nutrition; $7.5 million of this amount is new assistance. (See related article.)
Niger -- the second poorest country in the world, according to the United Nations Development Program --suffered an exceptionally poor agricultural season in 2004 because of massive locust infestations and drought in the region. Because of the widespread poverty, the people had no other food sources to rely on, and the current emergency arose.
Approximately one-third of Niger's population has been affected by the food shortage -- a total of 3.8 million people, 800,000 of whom are children under the age of 5, who are especially susceptible to death from malnutrition.
Although rain has begun in the region, ameliorating the drought situation, the people are still at risk for malnutrition because their crops will not be ready for harvest until October. Food aid is needed to keep the people healthy enough to last until the harvest.
Other countries that will receive humanitarian aid in the Sahel region include Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal. In addition to food aid, they also benefit from HIV/AIDS prevention and other health programs, education and job enhancement programs, and economic enhancement programs.
USAID focuses the majority of its assistance to Burkina Faso on combating food insecurity, as the citizens are implementing lean-season coping mechanisms, such as migrating in search of food, according to the United Nations. Total funds going to Burkina Faso for 2005 will be $16.2 million, including money for 24,240 metric tons of development food commodities, inexpensive food staples used for development activities that address food security goals.
According to the World Food Program, the food crisis in Mali currently affects 2.2 million people, 20 percent of the country's population. Approximately 5,000 children experience acute malnutrition, and the infant mortality rate has reached record levels in certain parts of the country. For fiscal year (FY) 2005, USAID provided 2,710 metric tons of development food commodities and plans to give aid worth a total of $36.4 million.
USAID activities in Mauritania focus predominantly on combating food insecurity. To this end, USAID provided 15,080 metric tons of development food assistance and 16,240 metric tons of emergency food assistance to Mauritania in FY 2005. Overall, Mauritania will receive $13.9 million for FY 2005.
For information, see U.S. Aid to Africa - http://usinfo.state.gov/af/africa/aid_to_africa.html.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)