30 January 2012, Geneva/Dakar - Over three million people in Niger are facing the risk of severe food shortages with poor harvests, resulting from erratic rainfall and pest attacks, contributing to a looming humanitarian and food crisis in the country.
Rising food prices and already chronic levels of malnutrition, particulalry amongst children, are also compounding the crisis which is affecting many regions of the country. The six most affected regions of Niger being targeted by the Red Cross are Tillabery, Dosso, Tahoua, Maradi, Zinder and Diffa.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has today launched an emergency appeal for 3,7 million Swiss francs (USD 4 million/ EUR 3.1 million) to help the Red Cross in Niger to assist 350,000 people.
“The food crisis will further weaken people who have not yet recovered from the food crisis of 2010, and who have already exhausted all their coping mechanisms” explained Nathalie Bonvin, regional food security delegate, for the IFRC in Dakar.
Funds from the appeal will be used to distribute emergency food, and seeds and tools to vulnerable people and to support health centres in providing nutritional services to affected communities. Through the "cash for work" program, jobs will be created providing cash for communities whilst also improving the environment for increased agricultural production and access to water. The Niger Red Cross will also provide cash to the most vulnerable, who cannot work but have access to markets to buy food supplies.
“The situation began to deteriorate with households who have no cereals left in stock" said Yayé Mounkaila, Food Security and Program Coordinator of the Niger Red Cross “Poor households have had to use their reserves stocks. At that point they have become more vulnerable and at risk of increased malnutrition and health impacts.”
Rates of acute and chronic malnutrition among children under five in Niger are systematically high. With the situation worsening, the last week of 2011 saw 3,245 cases of severely malnourished children being referred to Intensive Nutritional Recovery Centres and 6,278 moderately malnourished diagnosed and referred.
The Niger Red Cross, with support from the IFRC and other partners from the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, has responded for many years to the food crises that regularly hit Niger and will build on that experience in its response to this crisis. Some of its long term food security programmes provided effective protection to communities, indicating that a more sustainable approach pays off.
"If we act now, we can mitigate the impacts of this drought by increasing community resilience and saving lives," said Pierre Kana, IFRC country representative in Niger. “But we also need to ensure that we advocate and raise funds to support longer-term interventions that will reduce the communities’ food insecurity in the future.”
Many countries across the Sahel risk a major food crisis if urgent measures are not taken. The most affected countries are Niger, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and localized areas in Senegal. The IFRC has already launched a preliminary emergency appeal for Mauritania and sent money from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to the other at risk countries.