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Mali and Niger: Enough locusts "to bring Job to his knees"

MALI AND NIGER: ENOUGH LOCUSTS "TO BRING JOB TO HIS KNEES"

DAKAR - The United Nations World Food Programme is today appealing for US$10 million to ensure the double ravages of drought and a locust invasion do not combine to destroy the livelihoods of over 800,000 vulnerable people living in Mali and Niger.

In 2004 West Africa suffered its worst locust infestation in 15 years. Although the destruction in the agricultural belt of Mali and Niger was far from total, harvests and pasture were severely affected in several areas, a situation which was compounded by an early end to the rainy season in the region.

"Many people in Mali and Niger live a precarious existence at the best of times," said WFP Regional Director for West Africa Mustapha Darboe. "It's hardly surprising that after being hit hard twice - the locusts swarms only worsening the impact of the poor rains - these people are urgently in need of humanitarian assistance."

Mali and Niger are two of the four lowest ranked countries in the 2004 United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index. In both countries, well over 60 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and agriculture is the engine of a weak economy.

Even in a good year the Sahelian region is plagued by chronic food insecurity between harvests, but drought and the locust invasion have almost completely destroyed traditional coping mechanisms in some areas.

The uncertain future is already forcing some people to abandon the countryside and head for urban centres in search of work. Others have moved their livestock into agricultural areas where the animals risk destroying crops still in the ground. The market price for livestock is plummeting as people look to sell for cash to buy food. Excessive felling of trees to make charcoal has also been in evidence - yet another means of raising cash during difficult times.

WFP's assistance in the two countries will be targeted at the areas worst affected and where food insecurity is most critical. Although the most vulnerable will receive food from free distributions, the majority of WFP's interventions will be through food-for-work programmes aimed at helping farmers rehabilitate their land and improve its productivity in the seasons to come.

Food-for-work programmes will include technical training and activities such as the repair of dams and wells, the rehabilitation and protection of soils and the creation of small fruit and vegetable gardens.

The needs are greatest in Mali where US$7.5 million is required to feed nearly 450,000 vulnerable people living predominantly in the regions of Mopti, Timbuktu, Kayes, Kidal and Gao. The results of a recent early warning exercise indicated that 21,000 tons of food are needed urgently to meet the requirements of the most needy over the next three months, for which the country will be largely dependent on outside assistance.

"The dry season has already started and food stocks and fodder for animals are both beginning to run out with no prospect of being replenished until the next harvest in September," said WFP Mali Country Director Pablo Recalde. "We are already seeing worrying signs of malnutrition amongst young children and vulnerable adults. Cattle are dying, food prices are soaring, livestock are being driven south in search of better pasture - these calamities would even bring Job to his knees."

In Niger, WFP requires nearly US$3 million for the needs of 400,000 people living predominantly in the regions of Tillaberi, Tahoua, Maradi and Zinder.

"Niger is facing a food deficit of nearly a quarter of a million tons this year following the ravages of the locust invasion and the continuing impact of drought conditions," said WFP Niger Country Director Gian Carlo Cirri. "Women and children are particularly at risk - with only a relatively small amount of money we will be able to make a huge difference here."

WFP's operations are due to last for nine months in Mali and six months in Niger.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency; each year, WFP provides food aid to an average of 90 million people, including 56 million hungry children, in more than 80 countries.

WFP Global School Feeding Campaign - For just 19 US cents a day, you can help WFP give children in poor countries a healthy meal at school - a gift of hope for a brighter future.

Visit our website: www.wfp.org

For more information please contact (email address: firstname.lastname@wfp.org):

Marcus Prior
WFP/Dakar
Tel. +221 569 0267

Pablo Recalde
WFP Mali Country Director
+ 223 675 6286

Gian Carlo Cirri
WFP Niger Country Director
+ 227 72 43 84

Peter Smerdon
WFP/Nairobi
Tel. +254 20 622 179
Mob. +254 733 528 911

Brenda Barton
Deputy Director Communications
WFP/Rome
Tel. +39-06-65132602

Gregory Barrow
WFP/London
Tel. +44-20-75929292
Mob. +44-7968-008474

Christiane Berthiaume
WFP/Geneva
Tel. +41-22-9178564
Mob. +41-79-2857304

Bettina Luescher
WFP/Berlin
Tel. +49-30-2061490
Mob +49-170-9039479

Trevor Rowe
WFP/NY
Tel. +1-212-9635196
Mob. +1-646-8241112
rowe@un.org