Food shortages may drive more than half a million children out of school in Niger as they accompany their parents in search of food or income to buy it, a coalition of humanitarian agencies warned March 12, 2012.
Humanitarian agencies are concerned by the early depletion of food reserves and call for quick reinforcement of the international aid response, said a statement issued by Oxfam and other agencies in the Emergency Capacity Building Project.
According to a national Early Warning System, more than six million Nigeriens need immediate assistance.
Oxfam in Niger is seeking $20.8 million Cdn to help 450,000 people hit by the food crisis.
Samuel Braimah, Oxfam Country Director in Niger: “Communities in the Tillabery region have taken their kids out of school and left for the city in search of food and a low-paid job. The hunger season has started very early in Niger, pushing entire families to migrate to the cities and into the unknown.
“To date, already 33,000 children have dropped out as they follow their parents on the move. As their reserves have dried up and debts are piling up, they are now taking great risks in the hope of a better life. This is the third food crisis in recent years in Niger. The coping mechanisms have reached their limit and already pushed thousands over the edge.”
Niger is one of the countries in the Sahel region of West and Central Africa where urgent action is needed. The others are Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, and northern Senegal
Access to food has weakened for many families in Niger due to depleted food reserves, soaring staple food prices, a decline in the value of cattle and a high level of household debt following past food crises.
“I’m desperate. Last years’ harvest did not yield anything. Finding food for my children and I, even for one meal per day, has became as difficult as pushing a big rock in the sand,” said Hassana Souley, 36, widow and mother of four children, in Ouallam, one of the most affected departments, located 120 km north of Niamey. “I’m walking tens of kilometers a day in search of wood to sell and I do small jobs for some families in exchange of a meaningless quantity of food.”
In the hospitals and health centers of the most affected areas, the number of consultations has already doubled. Almost 394,000 children may be affected by severe malnutrition.
The recent influx of 30,000 people fleeing the armed conflict in Mali is adding more pressure on some communities already facing a critical food situation. These communities had already coped with the massive and unexpected arrival of migrants fleeing violence in Côte d’Ivoire and Libya.
“The situation of populations, in particular women and children, is deteriorating quickly. We call for a rapid, consistent and massive response to prevent irreversible situations and to promote durable solutions”, said United Nations Resident Coordinator, Fodé Ndiaye.
“To cope with food shortage, families are forced to adapt their feeding and economical behaviors, notably by reducing the number of daily meals, by selling their assets, or migrating to urban areas or neighboring countries.”
Under the leadership of the Government, and since the first signs of early warning in September 2011, humanitarian actors have mobilized to prevent the impact of these shocks on the population and reinforce their adaptation capacity. A million vulnerable people have already been assisted.
Prevention cost less than treatment. The experience of the 2005 crisis has shown that one dollar invested in reducing risks could prevent a child from slipping into malnutrition, whereas its treatment costs USD $80.
The government’s response plan includes the sale of cereals at moderate prices and livelihoods rehabilitation activities such as cash or food for work. The response plans also include targeted food assistance; seeds and cattle food distribution; support to cereal banks and to pastoral households; prevention and treatment of malnutrition and of associated medical complications, as well as the promotion of access to water and sanitation.
To date, the United Nations Consolidated Appeal to donors requesting US $229 million is only 30% funded. Additional resources are immediately required to promote the resilience of populations to recurring shocks and to address underlying causes of vulnerability.
Humanitarian actors are calling on adequate funding to be able to take immediate action.