“Niger has been hit extremely hard by the drought and the world has to act to prevent massive human suffering and the loss of a generation,” said Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of WFP.
Sheeran echoed comments made by the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, who underlined the need for joint action between development and humanitarian actors to deal with the structural issues underlying the recurrent food crises in the Sahel region.
Weak and erratic rainfall across parts of the eastern Sahel has destroyed harvests and parched land used by pastoralist communities to graze livestock. In January, results of a national survey found that more than half Niger’s population of 13.5 million is food insecure.
The ramping up of WFP operations focuses on reducing malnutrition through general food distributions to 1.5 million people, blanket feeding for children under two years of age and supplementary feeding for children under five in the worst-affected areas.
WFP will also target pregnant women and nursing mothers as well as supporting the provision of cereal banks – community cereal stores where women buy grain at subsidized prices at the height of the ‘lean season’ when the previous harvest has run out. Communities restock the banks during the next harvest when prices are lowest.
WFP has appealed for US$182 million to scale its operations in one of the poorest countries in the world. The current shortfall is US$96 million. “We need to move quickly to provide a buffer for the people and government of Niger against the shock of a serious food crisis,” said Thomas Yanga, WFP Regional Director for West Africa.
WFP is working against time to provide food assistance as fast as possible, buying most of the needed food from neighbouring countries to significantly shorten the lead time, which is normally about four months, to deliver food to Niger.
In addition to meeting the food needs of people hit by drought, WFP provides food for meals given to hundreds of thousands of school children in Niger and assists people affected by HIV/Aids and tuberculosis.