NIGER CARE warns of emerging food crisis

Erratic rains and insect attacks caused crop failure: Funding needed now to avert malnutrition and loss of livelihoods

GENEVA (October 26, 2011) – As the latest rainy season in Niger has been erratic, CARE International warns that the country is at risk of facing another food crisis in the coming months. The Government of Niger has called on the humanitarian community to provide assistance to up to 2.9 million people (according to UN figures) who are highly at risk of malnutrition and losing all their assets. “The numbers of affected people could increase rapidly in the next months. Humanitarian organizations in Niger have forecasted to treat 200,000 children this year for malnutrition, however, three months before the end of the year this number has already been exceeded by 17,000,” says Amadou Sayo, CARE’s Regional Emergency Coordinator, who led CARE’s emergency response in Niger in 2005 and 2009-2010.

In order to avert Niger from slipping deeper into a protracted food crisis, donors have to react immediately to make adequate funding available. “This is a wake-up call. If we act now, we can prevent people from losing all assets, reducing their meals, taking their children out of school and facing health problems and malnutrition,” Sayo urges. Prevention at an early stage of a food crisis is cheaper than a large humanitarian response. During the food crisis in Niger in 2005, it would have cost 1 US Dollar a day to prevent malnutrition among children if the world had responded immediately. By July 2005, it was costing 80 US Dollar to save a malnourished child’s life.

However, experience shows that often donors and media don’t start to act until the food crisis is fully underway. “We have seen this pattern during the 2005 and 2010 food crises in Niger. Only when pictures of malnourished children hit the news, the international community started to donate. But by then families have already lost their assets and children have to be treated for severe malnutrition. We must save lives and livelihoods beforehand,” Sayo urges.

In 2009-2010, a severe food crisis affected 7.5 million people - nearly half the population in Niger. This year, many families were full of hope when the rainy season started early in May. But the rains were erratic and brought waves of drought instead, particularly in the regions of Tahouha and Tillabéry. It created conditions where pests and insect attacks spread, destroying crops that are the foundation for most people’s income and nutrition. The unrest in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt has forced many Nigerien migrant workers to return home, many of whom are jobless now and not able to support their families with remittances anymore. “Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world and depends heavily on rainfalls. Drought, disease and malnutrition are common challenges for the people. But this must not be.  If we provide food, medicine, water, animal fodder now and if we scale-up school feeding programs so children can stay in school, we can avert the worst,” says Amadou Sayo. “This situation jeopardizes the fairly good recovery of people’s livelihoods and assets after the food crisis last year.”

CARE Niger’s emergency team is preparing a response aimed to assist 300,000 people with cash transfer, school feeding programs, food, animal fodder and water access. CARE has responded to the food crisis in 2010, mainly through local partners, by providing cash transfers and cash-for-work to 600,000 people. As a long-term strategy to strengthen people’s resilience to droughts, CARE has worked with communities to set up cereal banks, improve water access points and rehabilitate and protect pasture land. The cereals banks are mainly led by women. Last year, women in drought affected communities formed an association of cereal banks with the help of CARE to support each other and to rescue smaller cereal banks when they face stock shortages.

Read human interest stories about CARE's work in Niger.

Media contacts:
Geneva: Sandra Bulling, Communications Officer, +41 79 205 6951 (mobile), [email protected]
Atlanta: Brian Feagans, Communications Manager, +1 404 457 4644 (mobile), [email protected]
Niamey: Ibrahim Niandou , Communications Manager, [email protected]

About CARE: Founded in 1945, CARE is one of the world’s largest humanitarian aid agencies, headquartered in Switzerland. In over 70 countries, CARE works with the poorest communities to improve basic health and education, enhance rural livelihoods and food security, increase access to clean water and sanitation, expand economic opportunity, and provide lifesaving assistance after disasters. CARE places special focus on working alongside poor women because, equipped with the proper resources, women have the power to help whole families and entire communities escape poverty. Women are at the heart of CARE's community-based efforts to improve education, health and economic opportunity.

CARE has worked in Niger since 1974, with programmes in livelihood security, civil society organisation development, governance, gender, food security, health, disaster risk reduction, HIV/AIDS and micro-finance.