Failed rains and a locust infestation wiped out much of last year's crop of millet, the staple cereal of the Sahel. Now, 20% of children under five are malnourished with a significant proportion of these severely and there are still two and a half months to go before the next harvest.
Local food supplies have run out, government stocks of grain are exhausted and there are not enough seeds to plant for this year's harvest. Of a population of 12 million, an estimated 3.6 million people are directly affected with over 800,000 children suffering from hunger. Despite the international response that is now getting underway, the situation has reached a critical point which could lead to disaster.
It is common to have a 'hunger gap' between the time that food stocks run low and the next harvest, which is collected in September/October each year. Even in good years many children in Niger are malnourished, to some extent.
Concern's assessment team visited Niger in June 2005. Their report confirmed a severe food deficit in Tahoua Region, where Concern already has an Education Programme. The price of cereals in the markets was around 40% higher than at the same time the previous year and some local villages reported that there were no cereals available in the market at all. While the market price of millet and other cereals was increasing rapidly, the value of livestock was falling at similar rates, distorting the usual terms of trade between livestock and cereals.
People interviewed by the Concern team reported that in 'normal' years they would eat three to four times a day. They would eat millet porridge -- a thin soup of millet mixed with milk or water and a more substantial meal of millet, plus some vegetables and occasional meat. During the assessment, in some of the badly affected areas, villagers were found to have one meal, every two days. As this meal is invariably only the thin millet porridge this represents a very impoverished diet.
Concern launched its emergency nutrition programme in July, 2005 in Tahoua and Illela districts of Tahoua Region. A charter plane carrying 40 tonnes of emergency supplies, including food and medicines, landed in the capital, Niamey (Niger's capitol). The advance logistics team had prepared the way so that the Nurse Nutritionist leading the nutrition programme, could make the first distributions of supplementary food to targeted families within days.
Concern's main objectives of this emergency nutrition programme will be to support the supplementary feeding and basic healthcare of up to 6,000 moderately malnourished under 5's. Concern will also be providing support to Ministry of Health for proper and timely seeds distribution among the target communities.