Heavy rains and flooding are compounding Niger’s food crisis, originally caused by a long-running drought. The international aid agency OXFAM says the flooding has killed at least six people, left thousands homeless, ruined crops and forced hungry families to the point of crisis.
OXFAM says the UN estimates that between the drought and the floods, almost eight million people are facing severe hunger.
It’s a double disaster, says OXFAM’s spokesperson in Niamey, Caroline Gluck.
Over 100,000 children have been treated for severe malnutrition, especially the most vulnerable -- children under age five, Gluck says.
No harvest ahead
“They (people) were praying for rain so they could have a good harvest, something to eat [in the weeks ahead]. Now many are without that harvest and have no hope for the future and no food available to them,” says Gluck.
There are still two months to go before the next harvest, yet the rains have wiped out people’s crops and vegetable gardens. People are eating leaves and berries mixed with some millet or flour to “keep their bellies full, but that’s not at all nutritious and it’s the young children that are the most vulnerable,” says Gluck
The biggest challenge, she says, is to get help to people who need it most. But she says inadequate funding – down about 88 million dollars -- is preventing not only OXFAM, but also the whole UN system, including the World Food Program, from getting supplies to those who need it most.
The OXFAM spokesperson says part of the problem is that Niger is “slightly off the world radar” -- the problem there is not as visible as the massive flooding in Pakistan or the earthquake in Haiti.
Niger is “a slow onset crisis,” she says. Because it’s incremental, it isn’t as visible to the world as the other crises.
Add to that the fact that Niger is so poor, she says, a country where people have problems feeding themselves year in and year out, “a country which is desperately poor, where many adults cannot read or write, where the basic services, health and education don’t really work. People who are the least able to help themselves are now being hit by a double disaster.”
An ounce of prevention
A more effective way to deal with the problems, says Gluck, is for donors to concentrate on longer-term, self-help development, such as working on agriculture, emphasizing irrigation and the construction of grain storage banks to protect against future climatic crises.
Donors could also provide skills training and support education, she says, adding that people don’t want to be locked into an endless cycle of asking for international aid, but want instead to have the tools and training they need to help themselves.
This approach is “less exciting, less sexy development work,” says Gluck. But she adds that prevention is cheaper and more effective than an emergency response when a full-blown crisis hits.