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Niger: Background to Famine

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Jul 22, 2005 (050722)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

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

For a report on the slow response to last year's locust invasion, see


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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 System.

"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

The crisis

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

  1. Recuperate malnourished children under five and pregnant and lactating women through therapeutic and supplementary feeding.
  2. 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.
  3. Support existing health services to prevent water-borne diseases in affected areas.
  4. Ensure livestock survival through the distribution of fodder.
  5. Increase seed availability and accessibility at community-level through the distribution of cereal and pulse seeds.
  6. 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

Compiled by OCHA on the basis of information provided by the respective appealing organisation.

Appealing Organisation    Original Requirements (US$) 
FAO                            4,042,000 
UNDP                           8,950,000 
UNICEF                         1,353,000 
WFP                            1,446,000 
WHO                             400,000 
Grand Total                   16,191,000 


2. Context and Humanitarian Consequences

2.1 Context

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 depleted.

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 continue.

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.

What happened?

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 11 people.

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 harvest;
  • 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 herder-farmer conflicts.



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 annex)

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 food insecurity.

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 coming weeks.

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 livestock fodder.

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 Minister's Cabinet.

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 affected population.


AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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