from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Published on 27 Apr 2010
(Zinder/New York, 27 April 2010): As part of his visit to Niger centred on the response to the food crisis affecting over 58% of the population, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes travelled today to the department of Tanout in the region of Zinder to see the human impact of the emergency at first hand.

Tanout is characterized by extreme poverty, in an economy relying primarily on agriculture and pastoral activities, with poor access to food, water, education, and health services. This situation, combined with a population growth rate of 3% and the impact of climate change has left most of the population chronically vulnerable Mr. Holmes visited the village of Dalli, affected by a 100% cereal shortage and classified amongst the region's most vulnerable villages. The villagers explained their survival strategies, including reducing the frequency and quality of their meals, consuming wild foods, and picking hay and wood for sale in local markets. Food insecurity is also resulting in significant population displacement from rural to urban areas and into neighbouring countries, notably Nigeria and Libya.

The village chief told Mr. Holmes that villagers had sowed four times last year, without success. "The drought destroyed everything. Our food reserves are empty, and we can barely feed our animals. We had to sell most of our livestock," he said. The village has benefited from short-term relief assistance from the government through its cheap cereal distribution programme and from international humanitarian organizations via cash for work activities. But more needs to be done to help these communities survive until the next harvest.

In a visit to the supplementary feeding centre in Tanout's hospital, providing intensive therapeutic care to children under five suffering from severe acute malnutrition, Mr. Holmes talked to mothers and medical staff about the children's condition. Acute malnutrition, always at relatively high levels, is once again on the increase in Niger. Admissions are expected to peak in May-June.

"Funding is needed now to provide life-saving therapeutic food for children, to cover the cost of treatment and to support the national health system. If we act now, we can mitigate and better manage the expected increase in malnutrition cases among children over the coming months," said Mr. Holmes.

In the village of Danganari, where the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) launched an animal feed operation to assist pastoralist populations. During the three-month operation, more than 700 tons of animal feed will be sold at reduced rates by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), breeders' associations and government services in Tanout.

Herders spoke of animals already dying in large numbers and increasingly too weak to move in search of better pasture "It is imperative that we act now because cattle constitute the population's savings and revenue, their source of food, their life and their livelihood," Mr. Holmes said. A total of $133 million of the $190 million requested in the Emergency Humanitarian Action Plan is still needed to scale up food security, nutritional and other life-saving activities.

Tomorrow, Mr Holmes will visit the department of Mirriah to participate in the launch of a blanket feeding operation to prevent malnutrition among all children aged 6 to 23 months (a joint effort of the World Food Programme and the United Nations Children's Fund).

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