More than 3.5 million people at risk of famine in Niger
More than 3.5 million people are currently at risk of famine in Niger, according to international agency Oxfam. One in four Nigerans are affected. Without increased international assistance, affected communities will face rising malnutrition and loss of livelihoods. A humanitarian crisis is looming across West Africa’s Sahel Region with other countries, including Mali and Mauritania, also affected. International attention is slowly turning to the Sahel but it has not yet led to sufficient increases in aid to the region. Donor governments must urgently provide more funding for emergency assistance, especially the provision of food, fodder for livestock and seeds for the coming planting season.
The crisis in Niger has been highlighted by the UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mr Jan Egeland, as the world's number one forgotten emergency. Oxfam stresses that funds generously provided in the aftermath of the Asian Tsunami must not detract donor's attention from humanitarian crises across the rest of the world, particularly in Africa.
In Niger Oxfam has been working with grassroots partner organisations AREN, Mooriben and AIP-Takkayt. In recent months they have reached more than 100,000 people with a total of 900 tons of subsidized cereals (50% of the market prices).
A rapid scale-up of assistance is urgently needed. In the coming months Oxfam, together with partners in Niger, will continue to distribute food among the affected population. They will also distribute seeds for planting and feed and fodder for animals. In the first phase 200,000 people will benefit from food aid and food for work activities to fulfil their basic food needs until the next harvest. Oxfam will also engage in conflict prevention and management with nomadic herders and farming communities. Increased tension between these groups over water usage and access to grazing areas has arisen as a result of the drought.
Last year’s harvest was poor due to a massive locust invasion and inadequate rains. As a result, household stocks are severely depleted and prices for human and animal food have increased dramatically. “Prices have multiplied too many times. While I used to be able to buy one bag of 100 kg millet after selling one or two healthy goats I would now need to sell three to five goats for the same amount,” says Mrs. Aissa Maman, a farmer in Niger.
Both farming and nomadic herder groups are affected by the crisis and are using coping strategies that are further eroding their livelihoods. There are reports that farmers do not have sufficient seeds for planting and that more cattle are being offered for sale than is usual at this time of year.
There are also rapidly rising rates of malnutrition in children with increasing numbers being registered in therapeutic feeding centres. Paul van Wijk, Novib/Oxfam Netherlands’s program officer who just returned from Niger said, “People only eat one meal a day instead of three. Despite health risks they eat leaves and fruit, too bitter for the cattle to eat. Exhausted cattle about to die are being sold to mobile abattoirs and the dried meat is sold in the cities.“
“It will take years for the nomadic herder communities to fully recover from this crisis. The distribution of seeds and animal feed is vital for future food security and the preservation of livestock for breeding,” says Paul van Wijk.
At the G8 Summit in Gleneagles next week Oxfam is asking world leaders to commit to a total of an extra $50 billion in aid globally, half of it for Africa. This money is vitally needed, in part to tackle humanitarian crises like the current food security crisis in Niger and the wider Sahel region. It is vital that any increases in aid to Africa must be effective immediately, and they must be "new money" - in other words, they must not be at the expense of poor people on other continents and they must not be re-announcements of promises rich countries have already made .
For more information and interviews:
Novib, Oxfam Netherlands press office, Annette Rayer, tel: 31 70-3421638 / 31 6-51568878.
Nick Ireland, Oxfam Great Britain Regional Humanitarian Coordinator, currently in Niger, tel: 227 408522 221 639 5506
Digital pictures are available.