FEWS Niger Food Security Emergency 20 Jul 2005 - Malnutrition and animal losses worsen

As the hunger season progresses, extreme food insecurity is now evident in some areas (see Figure 1). High cereal prices, combined with the deterioration of animal conditions, have led to an alarming food security situation. The current situation warrants an immediate and coordinated response in order to save lives and livelihoods. This response will be needed through at least early September, when household food security conditions are expected to improve.

Extreme food gaps are now evident for many agro-pastoral and pastoral households. Despite a very good start to the planting season and good rains, cereal prices have continued to rise against expectations, due in part to high regional prices, especially in Nigeria, Ghana and Benin. At the same time, livestock prices have declined, translating into reduced food access for pastoral and agro-pastoral households. With these worsening conditions, malnutrition rates continue to climb. Weekly child admissions to health centers run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) increased from 590 in May to 750 in July, much higher than normal for this time of year.

Increasing numbers of animal deaths are being reported in the north of Zinder, Tahoua, Maradi and Diffa, due to insufficient pasture and veterinary care. High fodder prices are further limiting food for livestock. While the current favorable rains will improve pasture conditions, their impact on animal health will not be felt until at least the end of July or early August, when pastures will regenerate sufficiently.

However, many animals are too weak to trek north to access these pastures. To compound matters, the unusual presence of animals in July in the agricultural belt, near farms, is causing conflicts between herders and farmers. Despite the good rains, therefore, animal conditions are unlikely to rebound immediately, and household food security conditions will lag a month or two behind these improvements.

Faced with extreme food insecurity in the north of the country, the government has adopted a new strategy combining limited free food distributions, subsidized cereals sales and the distribution of over 36,000 metric tons of food loans to be repaid after the harvest.

With attention centered on household food security, programs intended to provide nutritional supplements and veterinary care to livestock remain limited in scope. It is urgent that the government and its partners, especially NGOs, expand their programs to pastoral zones with a focus on keeping livestock alive until they can reach renewed pasture in August in order to preserve both lives and livelihoods.

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