Lack of funds for West Africa food crisis forces UN to make agonizing decision

WFP to prioritize children under age of two – 60% of people in dire need of aid may not receive adequate help

The World Food Program (WFP) in Niger, the country worst-hit by the West Africa food crisis, has been forced to make an “agonizing” decision to abandon plans to provide emergency food to families with children over the age of two because of a huge funding shortfall, says international agency Oxfam.

Only families with children under the age of two will receive food over the coming weeks and they will still only receive 50 kilograms of cereal, half the amount an average family of seven needs each month. The remaining 60 percent of the affected population will be left to depend on a woefully under-resourced government and aid groups. This news comes at the peak of the food crisis when there is still almost two months to go before the next harvest.

Oxfam, who works with the UN to provide food to families in Niger, has repeatedly called for donors to increase their funding to WFP and other aid agencies – but still not enough is being done, it says.

Raphael Sindaye, Oxfam Deputy Regional Director in West Africa said:

“No humanitarian agency should be forced into such an impossible position, especially one backed by the entire international community. WFP is being forced to make the heartbreaking decision to direct its limited resources only to families with children under two because it lacks the cash it needs to do the job.”

“Every day is a battle to find food”

Across the Sahel belt of West Africa drought and erratic rains have caused meager harvests and severe water shortages, forcing Niger, Mali and Chad to depend largely on international aid. More than 10 million people are affected by the crisis, seven million of those in Niger where hundreds of thousands of children face starvation.

Maria Ali, 50, and mother of 10 in a village near Zinder, Niger told Oxfam:

“We have no crops and no land of our own, and now we are very hungry. It's the hardest year I can remember. No one here has received any help. There is nothing we can do, we just pray that God will help us. We urge anyone, the government, the international organizations, to come to our aid. Every day is a battle to find food for my children.”

Fatima Husseini, 50, and mother of nine said:

“We have not received any help here, though I know other places have received something. But we are not jealous because we know that everybody needs aid. I urge anybody to come to help us.”

The WFP recently announced a much-needed scale up of its operations to reach almost eight million people in Niger with emergency food but limited resources and time have forced the agency to drastically scale back these plans by halting intended distributions to one million people with children over two. WFP is now prioritizing only 700,000 children under the age of two and their families.

7.9 million people affected in Niger

Sindaye said: "This is an appalling situation. We have known about this crisis for months and yet more than a million people in Niger will continue to starve over the coming weeks and perhaps months."

Oxfam said missing funds are urgently needed to buy essential trucks, open more storage space and ensure food actually reaches communities. The WFP has 42,000 tons of food available, but needs approximately double this to reach the full 7.9 million affected people in Niger.

Oxfam is working with partner organizations in some of the worst-affected areas of Niger, Chad and Mali providing cash vouchers, clean water and vaccinating livestock. The agency is also distributing food provided by WFP with its local partners.

Read more

Donate now to Oxfam's humanitarian work in West Africa

Photo gallery: Food crisis in Niger

Read the blog by Kirsty Hughes, Oxfam GB's Head of policy and advocacy: Assessing the situation in Niger, part 1 and part 2

More information: West Africa Food Crisis

Notes to editors

  1. 17 percent of children under five in Niger are classified as acutely malnourished; above the 15 percent threshold which is considered a global emergency.
  2. The WFP faces a funding shortfall of $96 million in Niger. The funding gap for the overall UN emergency response in Niger is twice as much again. The consolidated appeal for the West Africa region as a whole faces a shortfall of $483 million.

Contact information

Anna Ridout, +44 (0)1865 473415 or +44 (0)7766 443506