Concern emergency relief flight arrives in Niger as famine looms in West African country

Concern announced details of a $1.8 million emergency program to help avert a looming famine in Niger, where 3.6 million people are at risk.

Concern's first charter of relief goods arrived in Niger Tuesday morning. The cargo, valued at $300,000, consisted of special food for severely malnourished children, medicines and blankets.

Paul O'Brien, Concern's Overseas Director stressed that this is only the initial phase of the response. "People in Niger face massive food shortages over the coming months. Much of last year's harvest was destroyed because of drought and a plague of locusts. People lost both grain and fodder for their animals. Household stocks are now depleted and many people have resorted to eating wild leaves and berries. Malnutrition rates particularly among children are extremely high," he said.

Niger is a vast desert country with a population of 11.5 million. It is the second poorest country in the world, according to the United Nations. Currently, one third of the population face food shortages. The crisis is exacerbated by the fact that Niger, a landlocked country, cannot rely on imports from neighboring nations as they too face food deficits. Donors have been slow to commit the resources needed to avert this famine.

Concern has been working in Niger since 2002, its focus has been on education programs. An emergency response team is being mobilized to cope with this crisis. Over the coming weeks, experienced nurses, nutritionists, logisticians, water and sanitation engineers and an accountant will join the Concern team in Niger.

Concern is now operating a feeding program targeting 6,000 malnourished children in two districts in the region of Tahoua. Food rations are being distributed to an additional 6,000 families.

This is the planting season in Niger but, after months of drought, it is reported that many farmers have neither the seeds nor the energy to plant. Concern is assisting with seed distributions to vulnerable farmers for the October harvest.