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ICRC to Launch Relief Operation in Niger, Mali

The International Committee of the Red Cross is launching a huge relief operation for 100,000 people in northern Niger and Mali affected by bad weather conditions and violence. The ICRC says farmers and herders are particularly hard hit.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says millions of people, mainly farmers and herders, have been hit hard by poor rains and economic hardship.

ICRC spokesman, Marcel Izard says the situation is particularly dire in northern Mali and in northwestern Niger. He says millions of people are facing a food crisis.

"The ICRC will distribute food rations over the next eight months, monthly food rations for about 85,000 people," said Izard. "Plus it will distribute seeds and tools and will also help with training for around 40,000 farmers," he said.

Government statistics indicate more than 250,000 people in northern Mali are short of food. And, in Niger, the government estimates more than half of the entire country's population, or eight million people, is suffering from moderate to severe food insecurity.

Rainfall last year was approximately 70 percent below the annual average, creating a poor harvest. The Red Cross says people are running out of food because of the bad weather conditions and the difficulty of moving about amid the communal violence.

Izard says herders are facing a particularly difficult period because their cattle do not have enough pasture. He says the ICRC plans to aid 45,000 herders.

"We will buy cattle," said Izard. "We will buy about 20,000 head of cattle to help farmers to reduce the amount of livestock, which is too high at the moment due to the dwindling grazing lands. It is not sustainable to have so many cattle at the moment," he explained.

Izard explains by reducing the head of cattle, herders will be able to preserve the lives of the remaining livestock. He says this also will help to stabilize prices by injecting cash into the local economy. He notes the meat of the slaughtered cattle will be distributed to needy people in local communities.

To carry out this ambitious program, the ICRC is asking donors for an additional $23 million. This is almost triple the initial amount the agency had budgeted for Niger and Mali for 2010.