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Niger: Background to Famine
Jul 22, 2005 (050722)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
With a BBC film crew in Niger broadcasting images of starving
children to the world, food aid shipments to the country are
starting to pick up. But UN under secretary-general for
humanitarian affairs Jan Egeland, who has repeatedly warned of
neglected emergencies in African countries, told reporters that if
donors had responded to earlier appeals, a child's life could have
been saved for little more than a dollar a day. Now the estimated
cost has risen to 80 times that, and for many it is too late.
As Mr. Egeland and other commentators have stressed, there is a
built-in discrimination ensuring that some crises are ignored until
they pass a high threshold of lives lost and media attention. While
the Niger government has played some role in underplaying the depth
of the crisis, the fact is that for almost a year neither its
appeals nor warnings from international agencies gained attention.
Niger was one of the countries for which the G-8 summit promised
future debt relief. But neither the country's immediate crisis nor
the defects of humanitarian response dependent on voluntary
"appeals" was on the agenda. And programs to decrease Niger's
vulnerability to future crises have received even fewer pledges
than has the appeal for immediate aid.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains the most recent update on Niger
from the Food and Agriculture Organization, and excerpts from the
May 19 consolidated UN appeal with additional background.
For an earlier Bulletin on slow response to UN humanitarian appeals
for Africa, see http://www.africafocus.org/docs05/ege0505.php
For a report on the slow response to last year's locust invasion,
Many thanks to those subscribers who have recently sent in a
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++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
Niger Struggles With Worsening Food Situation
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (Rome)
July 20, 2005
Niger is facing a worsening food crisis due to limited food supply
and increasingly high prices for local food staples, such as
millet, FAO warned today.
Some 2.5 million people in around 3 000 villages are at risk of
food shortage, including about 800 000 children. Severe child
malnutrition is increasing rapidly; the number of children
supported by feeding centres is rising.
Targeted food supply and the delivery of agricultural inputs such
as seeds and fodder are urgently required to enable affected
vulnerable households to cope with the crisis until harvesting
starts in October, FAO said.
"In late 2004, a combination of drought and desert locusts struck
the northern parts of the Sahel and the impact on many communities
in these marginal areas has been very severe," said Henri
Josserand, Chief of FAO's Global Information and Early Warning
"In Niger, several years of economic hardship or decline have also
lowered people's capacity to deal with such shocks. This is why the
crisis is now more acute in Niger than in other parts of the Sahel.
People in affected areas are in critical need of seeds and enough
food to carry them through until late October," Josserand added.
Out of 63 districts surveyed in the country, 11 have some
populations in an 'extremely critical' situation, and in 16
districts the situation is considered as 'critical', according to
national estimates. Pastoralists, in particular, have difficulty
accessing main food staples.
While there has been adequate rainfall in recent weeks and land
preparation and planting are under way, availability of seeds in
regions hard hit by drought and locusts remains limited. Desert
locusts remain a serious threat, although FAO is not expecting a
large-scale invasion this year.
FAO launched an appeal for Niger in May 2005 asking for around $4
million for emergency agricultural interventions.
As of today, the UN agency has only received a contribution from
Sweden of $650 000 to provide cereal and pulse seeds for the rainy
season, and animal fodder and vegetable seeds for the dry season
starting in October. Seed distributions from this initial donation
are currently ongoing.
The immediate delivery of additional seeds in affected areas is
essential to ensure sufficient harvesting in October, FAO said.
Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP): Flash Appeal 2005 for Niger
May 19, 2005
1. Executive Summary
Nutritional surveys and food security data are showing a critical
situation in vulnerable areas of Niger (Tillaberi, Tahoua, Maradi,
Diffa, Agadez, Zinder) affected by the 2004 desert locust
infestation and drought. These two combined hazards had a strong
negative impact on both pasture and cereal production, bringing the
already impoverished population to critical levels of food
insecurity and high rates of malnutrition for children under five.
3.6 million of Niger's 12 million inhabitants have been directly
affected by this food crisis. 800,000 children under-five are
suffering from hunger, including 150,000 who are currently showing
signs of severe malnutrition. This estimate from a joint
FAO/CILSS/FEWSNET/WFP mission has been validated by the national
Early Warning System (EWS), under the Prime Minister's cabinet.
The resources of the national crisis mitigation mechanism (DNPGCA)
were completely depleted to address the current food crisis since
its onset. However, this has been insufficient to address the
country's needs and it is therefore necessary to mobilise more
resources to cover the upcoming lean season (April-September).
Furthermore, Niger could face an even more critical food crisis
should the 2005 agricultural campaign be affected again by a new
drought spell and/or locust invasion.
Priority needs and humanitarian response plan
- Recuperate malnourished children under five and pregnant and
lactating women through therapeutic and supplementary feeding.
- Increase food availability and accessibility at community-level,
through subsidised sales, food-for-work activities, cash-for-work,
food-for-training, and support to cereal banks.
- Support existing health services to prevent water-borne diseases
in affected areas.
- Ensure livestock survival through the distribution of fodder.
- Increase seed availability and accessibility at community-level
through the distribution of cereal and pulse seeds.
- Reduce migration flows by providing food assistance and creating
favourable conditions for the 2005 agricultural campaign.
Amount requested through this Flash appeal: US$ 16,191,000
Period covered by the Flash appeal: the lean season (until the
end of September 2005).
Niger Flash Appeal 2005 Summary of Requirements - By Appealing
Organisation as of 18 May 2005 http://www.reliefweb.int/fts
Compiled by OCHA on the basis of information provided by the
respective appealing organisation.
Appealing Organisation Original Requirements (US$)
Grand Total 16,191,000
2. Context and Humanitarian Consequences
A "silent crisis" is looming in Niger; all indicators point towards
increased poverty due to a galloping demography, desertification,
locust infestations, rain shortfalls, and socio-economical impacts
of crises in the sub-region, combined with weak national capacity.
Classified as both a least developed and a low-income, food-deficit
country, Niger ranked 176th out of 177 countries in the United
Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) 2004 Human Development Index
(HDI). The population is approximately 12 million people, of which
63% survive on less than US$ 1 a day. Malnutrition indicators in
Niger are among the worst in the region and 60% of the population
lacks access to basic social services. The mortality rate for
children under-five is 274 / 1,000 and the infant mortality rate is
123/1,000, which is among the highest in the world. The demographic
growth curve is one of the world's highest with a rate of 3.6% and
the fertility rate is eight births per woman during her life span.
The average Nigerien family currently includes seven members. Poor
school attendance, especially among girls, contributes to Niger's
national literacy rate of 17.1%. Niger is structurally fragile and
is plagued by chronic food insecurity, especially during the lean
season (April-September) before harvests.
The population of Niger is mainly concentrated in the southern
productive areas, which has resulted in increased pressure on land
tenure and thus occasional tensions among pastoralists and farmers.
The majority of Nigerien families practices subsistence farming:
only growing enough food to sustain themselves until the next
harvest. Even in the best of years, 40% of children are
malnourished (chronic and acute malnutrition). Livestock breeding
plays a key role for Nigerien agro-pastoralist families, serving as
a kind of savings account; whenever the household needs cash, they
sell some of their animals on the market. A loss of livestock or
decrease in their market value deprives the household of a key
resource and exposes it to food insecurity. This sale of livestock
is often a final measure taken at a time when families have already
consumed all of their cereal stocks and the cash is thus required
to buy food for the lean season.
The Government of Niger has developed a mechanism to prevent and
mitigate food crises, to which regular contributions are mainly
made by France, the European Union (EU), and Italy. The Food Crisis
Prevention and Mitigation Mechanism (DNPGCA) is the national
coordinating body for all partners active in food security. The
World Food Programme (WFP), the Food and Agriculture Organization
(FAO), the UNDP and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
participate in the DNPGCA. These partners also provide
contributions in support of the mechanism. This year, food stocks
and funds managed by the DNPGCA, have been fully mobilised to meet
approximately half the needs of the crisis and will soon be
In a region prone to political conflicts and complex emergencies,
Niger remains a model democratic state and conducted three peaceful
elections in recent months. Social tensions, stemming from raising
the Value Added Tax (VAT) on consumer goods in April, have been
solved through dialogue with the Coalition of the civil society.
The Government of Niger (GoN) has retracted a part of the new taxes
and identified alternative sources of revenue. The civil society
has agreed to these measures and there are no longer signs of
unrest or protest on this issue throughout the country.
Furthermore, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has also agreed
to the new approach, allowing the flow of budgetary aid to
The political and image implications of the Francophonie Games to
be held in Niamey in December 2005 could be an opportunity to draw
international attention to the crisis and mobilise funds.
In 2004, the combined effects of the drought and the locust
invasion affected Niger's agro-pastoral areas, causing a loss in
cereal production estimated at 15% compared to the average annual
production over the past five years (deficit of 223,448 metric
tonnes (MTs) out of a total requirement of 2,991,616 MTs). The
livestock fodder deficit is estimated at 4,642,219 MTs, which is
36.5% of needs. With scarce pasture and water, livestock conditions
are deteriorating and tension is rising as farmers and herdsmen
struggle to survive following widespread damage to crops and
pasture. On 9 May, clashes between nomadic herdsmen and local
landowners in drought-hit areas of Niger resulted in the death of
A joint FAO/CILSS/FEWSNET/WFP mission in October 2004 found that
the food security situation is of particular concern in the most
vulnerable zones of Niger (agro-pastoral strip). This is evidenced
by the following key characteristics of a food crisis:
- Rapid increase in cereal prices immediately following the
- Unavailability of local food commodities;
- Human consumption of cereal seeds;
- Drop in the price of small livestock;
- Massive early departure of migrants, especially male
labourers from villages;
- Early transhumance of herders leading to increased
The deficit is heavily concentrated in the poorest, most food
insecure and vulnerable departments in the agro-pastoral regions of
Tillaberi, Tahoua, Maradi, Diffa, Agadez, Zinder. In these areas,
local deficits are well above the structural deficits. (See map in
What has happened since the crisis?
Since mid-June 2004, UN agencies and Programmes (in particular WFP,
FAO, UNDP, UNICEF, and WHO) and other partners have been closely
monitoring the situation and supporting the Government in
evaluating and mitigating the locust invasion and the prevailing
In view of the situation, on 25 November 2004, the Government
issued an urgent appeal for 78,100 MTs of emergency food aid for
which only minimal contributions have been received to date.
The UN Country Team (UNCT) and the Food Crisis Cell (Prime
Minister's Cabinet) organised a donors' meeting on March 17th, 2005
in Niamey where donors were provided with an update on the
implementation of the 2004-2005 Emergency Plan, elaborated with
UNDP support. The appeal to donors was estimated at US$ 1.6 million
for DNPGCA, US$ 1.4 million for WFP and US$ 4 million for FAO.
WFP's 2005 initiatives in response to the 2004 drought and locust
infestation, and FAO's emergency plan for the provision of
agricultural inputs and zootechnics were presented during this
meeting. It is important to note that all UN initiatives are fully
integrated into the 2004-2005 Emergency Plan and the DNPGCA.
The DNPGCA plans to cover 40% of the deficit through subsidised
sales of cereals. Three rounds of subsidised sales of cereals have
been implemented by the DNPGCA for a total of 18,511 MTs of cereals
in the most affected areas, reaching 3.6 million people. A fourth
round of 10,000 MTs is currently ongoing. The DNPGCA has purchased
an additional 14,250 MTs of cereals to date and the purchase of an
additional 16,000 MTs is underway. Future purchases will be carried
out to meet the target of 67,000 MTs of subsidised cereal sales.
The DNPGCA's plan amounts to US$ 36 million.
In response to this emergency situation, WFP and UNICEF have
reinforced their activities in the field of malnutrition by
supporting: i) Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) as new therapeutic
feeding centres were opened throughout the country; ii) other
non-governmental partners' activities, and; iii) national health
structures. WFP and UNICEF provide therapeutic food to malnourished
children as well as food commodities to prepare meals for mothers
staying in the centres.
UNICEF has reoriented US$ 577,000 of its regular resources for
cereal bank activities and the purchase of food commodities (mainly
therapeutic milk) to treat 30,000 severely malnourished children.
Additional available contributions of US$ 118,000, from funds
raised, will allow for the purchase of therapeutic food in the
WFP revised its distribution plans and as of May, total regular
deliveries to beneficiaries amounted to 9,001 MTs, which
corresponds to 64% of planned regular deliveries for 2005. To
address the food crisis. Moreover, WFP has approved an Emergency
Operation to reach 400,000 beneficiaries with 6,562 MTs of food
commodities for a total cost of US$ 3.6 million.
UNDP has technically and financially supported the elaboration of
the National Emergency Plan with US$ 50,000 from the Emergency Fund
and is actively involved in mitigating the current crisis through
the Poverty Reduction Programme which has expanded its activities
by US$ 400,000 from regular resources so as to better address the
current food crisis.
The FAO has provided the Government of Niger with US$ 360,000 from
regular resources for livestock fodder and an additional US$ 80,000
from funds raised for the purchase of garden vegetable seeds and
The World Bank has obligated funds totalling US$ 428,000 to improve
seed distribution activities in the upcoming agricultural season
through its African Emergency Locust Project.
MSF is significantly scaling up its activities in Niger (opening
therapeutic feeding centres in Dakoro, Keita, Tessaoua and Mayahi
in addition to its existing centres in Maradi; mobilising 40
international staff; and airlifting of therapeutic food) in
partnership with UNICEF and WFP.
2.2 Humanitarian Consequences
Who is most affected?
3.6 million people living in 3,815 villages (out of a total of
10,061 villages nation-wide) have been identified as vulnerable, of
which 2.5 million are considered extremely vulnerable, including
800,000 children under five. It is estimated that 150,000 of these
children are malnourished (moderate and severe malnutrition). This
estimate, provided by a joint FAO/CILSS/FEWSNET/WFP mission, has
been confirmed by the national Early Warning System of the Prime
Results of a recent WFP/Helen Keller International (HKI)
nutritional survey indicate alarming and unusually high overall
rates of acute malnutrition (13.4%), including 2.5% severe
malnutrition in the regions of Maradi and Zinder. These figures,
recorded four months prior to the onset of the lean season, are
comparable to rates commonly seen in countries at war and those
observed during the peak of food crises and at the height of the
lean season in Niger. Rates will certainly continue to rise over
the next few months. The survey also found that 60.2% of children
show signs of stunting, which is the evidence of long-term
nutritional deficiencies; WHO qualifies a 40% rate as an alarming
nutritional situation. By the month of May, MSF's therapeutic
centres in Maradi treated some 3,662 patients compared with 1,696
over the same period last year, as shown in the table below.
The impact of drought and food insecurity on health is not limited
to malnutrition and increases the child and maternal mortality. A
drought-stricken environment is conducive to the outbreak of
diseases such as cholera, typhoid fever, diarrhoea, acute
respiratory infections and measles. Anticipated needs in the health
sector would be water quality control, surveillance and control of
communicable diseases, surveillance of nutritional status of the
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