Brussels, 1 July 2005
The European Commission has moved to provide significant emergency funding for vulnerable populations living on the southern fringe of the Sahara Desert. The package, consisting mainly of targeted nutritional support, involves €4.6 million for Niger and €2 million for Mali. The funds will be managed by the European Commission's humanitarian aid department (ECHO), which comes under the responsibility of Commissioner Louis Michel.
Mali and Niger were badly affected by a destructive cricket infestation last year followed by drought. As a result, the 2004 harvest was poor, and many pastoralist families have now used up their reserves. The poorest families are being forced to sell underfed animals at low prices to purchase increasingly expensive food. Many are surviving on a diet made up almost exclusively of wild roots and herbs. Children are the hardest hit. Infant mortality and malnutrition rates have increased sharply.
The two decisions will provide supplementary and therapeutic feeding for malnourished children in the worst-affected areas (the central regions of Niger, and northern Mali). Targeted food distribution is also envisaged for families of malnourished children and other highly vulnerable groups. The Niger decision will benefit an estimated 300,000 people, including special help for 6,000 under-fives. The funding for Mali involves targeted nutritional support for 1,200 infants, food security actions for an estimated 110,000 people and support for livestock and nutritional surveys in areas where there are currently no humanitarian operations.
This aid, like all European Commission humanitarian support administered by ECHO, is provided free.
The planned intervention addresses immediate needs and is coordinated with longer term food security operations administered by the Commission. These focus on boosting early warning systems, ongoing food aid for the most vulnerable, improved seed distribution and cereal storage, and efforts to improve nutrition through schools.
The Commission also has a longer term development strategy aimed at reducing poverty in Mali and Niger (for the period 2002-2007, it has allocated €392.2 million for Mali and €332.8 million for Niger).
The Commission will continue to follow the nutritional situation in the Sahel region closely and is ready to provide additional humanitarian funds should the situation continue to deteriorate.