Food crisis in Niger - Update 1

Plan in Niger is increasing its distribution of emergency food supplies to help halt a famine affecting children and their families. For the next three months bags of rice will be distributed throughout 66 villages in the Tillabery area, where the situation is described as critical.
The intensification of work will seek to target some 10,170 families a total population of some 81,354 people. This will help maintain communities until the harvest season starts in October.

Currently some areas of the country are facing a 100 per cent cereal deficit, brought on by a poor rainy season and a massive locust invasion early this year. The food shortage is reported to be growing everyday.

Due to the great need in the area, Plan will concentrate on the Tillabery region. Tillabery is also part of Plan's current area of operation, which means it will be able to respond more rapidly to assist children and communities in greatest need.

In order to ensure the most effective response Plan has been coordinating its efforts, together with the government in Niger, and will continue to form partnerships with other development agencies - such as Catholic Relief Services and Islamic Relief - to maintain a rapid response.

Plan's work forms part of a national strategy to avoid further loss of life, this includes mass cereal distribution in all departments to all families. Due to the nature of the crisis, authorization has been given to suppliers to import rice from Asia.

Background on the Famine

Since the start of the crisis, Plan has been supporting emergency activities in the Tillabery region targeted at children affected by lack of food and portable water. The work has so far been limited to Plan's 14 partner villages; however, due to the nature of the famine Plan will increase its work to assist as many needy children as possible.

All regions in Niger are reported to be affected by the current crisis; especially in the south and the east of the country. Plan's strategic choice to concentrate its efforts in the Tillabery region comes from the fact that different international and local agencies are carrying out emergency activities in other affected locations; mainly in Maradi and Tahoua.

One of the dramatic affects of the famine is that traditional migration has worsened as families have been forced to look for new places to go. Some children are already reported to have been sent to urban areas in Niger, or to neighbouring countries such as Ghana, Nigeria and Benin.

Background on Niger

Niger is a landlocked country located in the heart of the Sahel with a total population of more than 10 million, within a territory where two thirds of the land is quasi desert. Niger is characterised by difficult climatic conditions, a poor land due to increased climate degradation and demographic pressure. Further poverty and illiteracy are obstacles to a child's development.

In 2000, Niger was ranked 173rd amongst 174 countries that were classified in the World's Human Development Report. Sixty six per cent of the population lives without one dollar US per day. In the urban zones, 52 per cent of the population is poor and 26 per cent live in extreme poverty. In rural zones these rates are even worse, with more than 73 per cent living in extreme poverty.

The status of children is incontestably desperate. The under-five mortality rate is amongst the highest in the world. Only 22 per cent of children between 12 to 23 months are completely vaccinated. Instead of improving, malnutrition among children has worsened in the last ten years.

Again the maternal death rate, with 590/10000, is one of the highest in the world.

Agriculture constitutes the basis of the economy with a contribution of 40 per cent to the GDP. The principal food crops for the country are millet, beans, sorghum, cassava and rice. Livestock is also important and its contribution to the GDP is more than 15 per cent.

All these agricultural activities depend almost entirely on the rainy season because irrigation is not well developed in the country. It is estimated that more than half of the population do not have enough food even when the rainy season is good.