The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is appealing for nearly $1 million to mitigate the effects of last year's bad harvest in Niger. An assessment conducted by the Niger government finds more than half of the country's 15 million people are facing food shortages due to irregular and poor rainfalls.
The International Red Cross Federation says Niger is expected to face a serious food security emergency this year.
It reports more than two million people, comprising half of the rural households in Niger, have finished their grain reserves. And, it says five million more people will soon deplete their food stocks.
In a telephone interview from Dakar, Senegal, Red Cross Communications Manager for West and Central Africa, Noora Kero, tells VOA malnutrition is growing.
She says the number of malnourished children being admitted to feeding centers was 60 percent greater in January 2010 than at the same time the previous year.
"It seems that people are already using coping mechanisms, such as reducing the size and the daily number of meals or moving on for days without a meal. Begging has intensified and some people have gone into debt in order to buy food," said Kero. "So, the fear is that if really it deteriorates and people start migrating to towns to look for work or they will sell their community assets. It looks like if nothing will be done, the situation will be extremely difficult by June and it is already now very alarming."
Kero says the peak of the food shortage is expected in June. She says more must be done to prop up community resilience and to support community coping mechanisms.
The Red Cross says money from the appeal will be used to assist 300,000 people in 120 villages in Diffa, Zinder and Tahoua Regions. It says it has a three-pronged plan of action.
The first is to provide money to vulnerable people in exchange for work to improve the environment. This, it is hoped will increase agricultural production.
Under the other aspects of the program, the Red Cross says food and seeds will be distributed and health centers will provide nutritional services to affected communities.