The International Committee of the Red Cross says it is tripling the number of beneficiaries who will receive assistance in northern Niger and northern Mali. The Red Cross says nearly 300,000 people in these areas are suffering from the cumulative effects of conflict and drought.
This region encompassing northern Niger and northern Mali alternates between wet and dry seasons. But, the dry season last winter was longer than normal, and this has created a crisis for hundreds of thousands of farmers and herders.
The International Committee of the Red Cross says farmers in the area are suffering from food shortages because of a failed harvest.
Spokesman Marcal Izard says his agency is distributing food and seeds to 22,000 farmers in northern Mali and 120,000 farmers in the Tuareg region in northern Niger. He says this aid will help the farmers get ready for the planting season.
"Now the first rains have started, which is good," said Izard. "However, we do not know if the rains will continue to go as it should and for the farmers, it will be very crucial to have now seeds and food to start sowing and planting so they can be ready to have the harvest in four months time."
Izard says southern Niger and southern Mali also are suffering from drought. But, he says the Red Cross is focusing its aid operations in the northern parts of these countries because they are affected by armed violence as well.
The agency's mandate is to work in conflict-ridden areas, and it often is the only humanitarian agency to be found in such places.
Izard says the rains, if they continue, also will be good news for nomadic herders in these drought-stricken countries. He says the rains will revive the pastures, and animals will once again be able to graze.
In the meantime, he says the Red Cross has been buying cattle from the herders at pre-crisis prices. He says this is important because the herders have far too many cattle for the available grazing land.
"So, we had to help them reduce significantly the amount of cattle. In some areas we bought half of them. That is because there were far too many and they could not feed all these goats, sheep and cows that they had," said Izard. "So, what we did, we bought the most sick and weak ones that would anyhow not have survived through this period, and then the herders they kept the strongest and healthy ones. And the money that they got from us also helped them to buy some food for their animals."
Izard says the Red Cross had the animals it bought slaughtered. And then, he says, the meat was dried and given back to the people as food aid.