The United Nations is giving $6 million in cash from its Children's Fund to mothers in Niger so they can buy food amidst widespread hunger in that West African country brought on by last year's lack of needed rain for crops.
Vanessa Curney, a communications specialist for UNICEF, based in the capital Niamey, said that with the help of partners such as Save the Children, CARE and the Nigerien government, UNICEF is making monthly cash payments of $40 to mothers of children under two in the areas that have been most affected by drought.
"It's given to the mothers, it's given to the women, and the idea is that women will use it in the local markets, so it further boosts the local economy, because the money is spent locally," said Curney.
A recent combination of drought, poor harvest and high food prices have placed more than 7 million people in danger of hunger in Niger. Curney added that cash for aid is appealing because of its cost efficiency.
In May 2010, UNICEF helped distribute food rations to families in Niger. The rations were meant to exclusively feed children between the ages of six months to 23 months. Curney said, however, that people began sharing the food among the entire family, so they turned to cash to supplement the growing need.
The current cash for aid will last for three months.
"It actually started at the end of the August, so that was the first distribution," said Curney. "There are two more distributions to go, which will take us up into, I believe, October - perhaps just the beginning of November. The problem is that when you have a situation where kids are malnourished, it's going to take them time to get back to their proper weight, their proper level of health."
This year's harvest is set to begin in October in Niger, and despite some recent flooding, there are positive expectations for the result.
"It's still a pretty difficult, tough situation, because obviously you've had a long period of people not being able to eat properly. But there are glimmers of hope. We're hopeful that there is going to be a good harvest," said Curney.
The second round of cash distribution is set to begin this week, and the cash will be given in conjunction with food rations handed out by the World Food Program.