Niger + 1 more

Niger crisis Q&A

News and Press Release
Originally published
Key questions about the emergency in Niger and the surrounding region.

What is CAFOD doing to help the food crisis in Niger?

CAFOD has given a total to date of £200,000 to Caritas partners helping those at risk of severe hunger and starvation in Niger and Burkina Faso.

The first grant of £100,000 has been given to Caritas Niger and Caritas Burkina Faso in response to a recent request for assistance.

Caritas Niger is running a food for work programme in which those who are able to, work in return for food for their families, alongside a food distribution programme for the most vulnerable -- the elderly, sick, pregnant women and young children. Caritas Burkina Faso is also responding by carrying out food distributions to the most needy.

The combined Caritas donations to Caritas Niger and Caritas Burkina Faso total around US$1.2million and the programme aims to assist just under 60,000 people in total.

The second grant of £100,000 has pledged to CAFOD's United States partner Catholic Relief Services (CRS). CRS is running food for work programmes which are aiming to reach nearly 400,000 people.

While CAFOD will not be calling for a major appeal, any donations received by CAFOD for the food crisis will be spent well to support Caritas emergency response work in the affected region.

You may also wish to donate to the Disasters Emergency Committee(DEC) appeal.

CAFOD believes that it will able to fully fund its response to the crisis from its own emergency funds and spontaneous donations from supporters. This money will be given to the Caritas family response in Niger and surrounding countries. Thus we have decided not to ask for additional resources from the DEC.

How serious is the food crisis?

The situation is extremely concerning. The United Nations estimates that over 3.5million people are affected by the food crisis. Nearly 14,000 villages have lost half or more of their food production. UN figures estimates that around 280,000 children are already malnourished or severely malnourished.

How has this situation arisen?

Last year the Sahel region suffered a plague of locusts, which stripped fields bare. Locust swarms are devastating -- a locust eats its own bodyweight in food every day. The locust plague was followed by a severe drought, turning the annual "hunger season" - which comes before the next harvest as food stocks run low -- into a catastrophe.

The traditional coping mechanisms for surviving the hunger season such as eating wild food or selling personal possessions are severely depleted. Food costs have rocketed whilst the price of livestock has plummeted. Many people are left with dead or dying cattle which are virtually worthless.

This situation has not come as a surprise to the aid community. CAFOD has been in contact with members of the Caritas family in the region for several months now and responded promptly to requests for financial help. We will remain in close contact with those working on the ground and provide further assistance if requested.

How can we prevent further food crises happening again?

The Niger crisis has again raised questions about how quickly the international community responds to emergency situations. Experience has taught us that a quick response to initial concerns over, for example, a poor harvest, can prevent an emergency situation developing.

CAFOD would strongly support the creation of a United Nations emergency fund which would allow immediate and early response to developing emergencies. International Development Secretary Hilary Benn said recently ""What we have at the moment - it's a bit like a fire breaks out and then people get on the phone and ring up the various donors and say 'Can you give us some money so we can buy a fire engine? Can you give us some money so we can recruit firefighters?' The current system doesn't work. We need a better system."

Why has this latest crisis happened in Niger?

Once again the underlying reason for the loss of life in Niger is the reality of unremitting, grinding poverty. It is the second poorest country in the world according to the United Nation's Human Development Index. Two in three people in Niger live on less than $1 a day. Every year large swathes of Niger's population are hungry for months at a time as they are too poor to have a financial safety net to see them through lean months. When disasters such as the locust swarms and subsequent droughts strike, the delicate balance of survival is tipped fatally the wrong way.

Niger was one of 18 countries granted 100% debt relief under the recent G7 finance ministers meeting. Before that decision it was paying around $30m a year in debt repayments to international debtors -- even after receiving debt relief in 2004. Thus it was paying nearly twice as much as the UN estimated in March would be needed to prevent widespread death from the food crisis.

According to World Bank figures in 2002, Niger received $26 per person in development aid.