The United Nations now says it needs more than 75-million dollars to help the two and a half million people in Niger affected by famine. Relief agencies say the situation has actually worsened in recent weeks.
Saturday, in the capital, Niamey, African musicians will stage a concert to raise money for famine victims. Voice of America’s Joe Bavier is in Niger. English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua reached him by cellphone as he was traveling from the southern famine-stricken area of Maradi back to the capital, about a nine-hour road trip. He described what he saw.
“Mainly it’s children who are now being affected by this famine. I visited a Doctors Without Borders feeding center in Maradi. For example, I saw one girl, who’s three years old, who only weighed about five and a half kilos. Severe malnutrition among a lot of children. They’re now saying two and a half million people in Niger are at risk of malnutrition. Complicating these things, it’s the beginning of the rainy season here, so cases of malaria are cropping up. There have been reports of a cholera breakout north of the city of Tahowa."
Reporter Bavier also describes current aid operations in Niger. He says, “I actually flew in from Abidjan, which is being used as a staging point to get cereals into the country with the World Food Program. That was Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday they had flights in from Abidjan for a total of about 180 tons of Soya flour and enriched flour. But there’s definitely a lot more aid coming in. That’s one of the problems they initially faced here. There was a reluctance to give money. There was a call in February by the World Food Program asking for increased aid in Niger to stave off what was going to be an inevitable famine. They were only asking for about $15 million at that point and had almost no response from donor countries. That has now picked up. They have been given a lot more money. But they also need a lot more now.”
Herders in Niger have also been hard hit by famine, losing livestock to famine or being forced to sell the animals.
The VOA reporter says, “There’s a problem with the cost of grain. The price of a bag of rice, for example, has gone up by a large margin in the last year or two. A lot of that has to do with the market and people are having to pay a lot more for grains. Because there was a drought last year and there was a locust infestation, there are few things for people to live off of and they have to actually to sell off cattle in a lot of places to buy these grains. A head of cattle is being sold for only a few thousand CEFA, which is three or four (US) dollars at this point. And a bag of rice, for example, a 25 kilogram bag of rice, can go for as much as $30. So, you can see the conflict a lot of these herders have right now. They’re having to sell off their herds in order to feed their immediate needs and then they’re going to be left with nothing.”