Helen Keller International responds to food crisis in Niger

New York, August 2, 2005 - Helen Keller International (HKI) is responding to the current food crisis in Niger by expanding its child survival project in Diffa, one of the most remote and vulnerable regions in the country. The recent shocks of the locust attacks, which decimated crops that people and livestock rely on, coupled with the poor rainfall of the last growing season, have tipped the always fragile conditions in this region to devastation. The only NGO in Diffa, HKI is working to implement an emergency action plan into its existing project to build the capacity of health facilities and to help communities deliver high-quality, high-impact nutrition interventions.
Since 1987, HKI has been working with the Government of Niger and local and international partners to build sustainable solutions that address food insecurity and malnutrition in Niger. HKI is also currently a member of the National Food Crisis Committee. As was true in Indonesia and HKI's response to the tsunami disaster, its presence and experience in the country enables the organization to capitalize on existing relationships and position itself to immediately address the urgent needs of the population there.

The situation is acute. The Government's Famine Early Warning System estimates that over 2.5 million Nigeriens are "extremely vulnerable" to famine right now, and the problem is even more grave in Diffa with 85% of the population extremely vulnerable. In addition, 21,000 children are acutely malnourished and need emergency therapeutic feeding in order to save their lives.

Focusing its work on Diffa, HKI is planning to rapidly establish 13 nutritional rehabilitation centers to ensure immediate aid for the most malnourished children as part of its ongoing efforts to improve the nutrition of young children in the region over the longer term. Identification and referral of acutely malnourished children to the centers will be strengthened by a communication strategy using community radios and community groups. HKI has worked extensively with the community radio network and has already developed nutrition counseling materials and messages specific to the region.

As part of its efforts to provide solutions to the underlying systemic problems in Niger, HKI intends to develop household and community gardening projects in Diffa as a complement to nutrition programming. These community gardens increase food intake, reduce food insecurity and improve revenues. This approach has been very successful in other parts of the country, and HKI is seeking to expand it to the region.

Niger needs not only immediate but also continued assistance to develop sustained solutions to alleviate malnutrition and food insecurity. The Diffa region will remain central to these efforts, with continued implementation of the child survival project, thereby ensuring that children who have recovered from malnutrition do not return to starvation.