Food crisis in Niger

In response to a food crisis in Niger and a call by the Jewish community to assist, American Jewish World Service is working to identify local grassroots organizations that can help feed people facing starvation, and to ensure that those most vulnerable to life-threatening conditions will have access to medical care.

Through small localized grants, AJWS will complement the work of larger international organizations already providing large-scale food aid by improving the ability of local groups to ensure that their communities will be served by the national relief effort. AJWS will likely support rural women's groups capable of delivering food to needy families unable to reach feeding centers, and work to ensure that local clinics are supplied with lifesaving medicines so that community doctors and nurses can treat and prevent diarrhea, a condition that is often fatal for malnourished children.

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How did this crisis happen? Over the past year, the world has not heard the cries for help coming from Niger. Drought and locust invasions wiped out crops in one of the world's poorest countries, leaving 3.6 million people, mainly children and the elderly, on the brink of starvation. Now with the onset of a heavy rainy season, communicable and waterborne diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, measles, diarrhea and cholera are adding an increased sense of urgency.

Government officials in Niger and international aid workers say a slow response from donor countries to months of appeals has allowed the situation to spiral to emergency proportions, sharply increasing the cost of saving lives. Officials believe that approximately 2.5 million people or 3,815 villages have reached an extremely vulnerable state and require immediate food assistance.

Humanitarian agencies have responded by stepping up massive food distribution programs, increasing support to medical clinics and implementing therapeutic feeding centers for the most malnourished. Donors have begun to flood the nation with overdue emergency funds, but aid workers are still finding it difficult to reach all of the communities desperately seeking assistance.