30 April 2010
The Red Cross is tackling growing food shortages in Niger that could cause more than seven million people to have insufficient food by the summer.
Irregular rains and a limited harvest last year, together with high food prices and low prices from the sale of livestock in poor health due to lack of pasture, mean that household supplies of food are running low. Many don’t have enough money to buy the food available in markets and are leaving their homes in search of work.
By this summer the Niger government estimates 7.8 million people – almost 60 per cent of the population – may be struggling to access enough food.
Time to act
“The best time to act in a situation like this is now,” said Mary Atkinson, British Red Cross food security advisor. “People are already in need of support to help them get enough food. If we wait for the peak of the crisis and the media attention that will come with that, it will be too late to give them the early response they need.”
The British Red Cross has given £102,000 from its Disaster Fund to help 8,700 vulnerable people in the Zinder region access food in the short-term before food aid from the World Food Programme becomes available.
This will be done through a ‘cash for work’ programme due to start in May operated by the Irish Red Cross, which is already working in Niger on a long-term operation to improve people’s opportunities for work and to generate income.
Communities will be paid cash to undertake work, mostly environmental projects including
firebreaks, rehabilitation of seasonal lakes and the prevention of soil erosion.
Not only will they be able to use the money to buy food to help tide them over until this year’s harvest towards the end of the summer, but the projects themselves will help improve the environment, making future crops less likely to fail.
Moustapha Ibrahima, a farmer with eight children, is typical of those who will benefit from a ‘cash for work’ programme. He said: “We don’t have any cereal in stock. At this moment, my family eats cabbage leaves. Working on this site is my only chance to get money to feed my family. My brothers have already left for Nigeria to look for work and left their children for me to take care of.”
Other parts of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, including the Niger Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross, are operating similar programmes elsewhere in the country and other affected countries in the Sahel region, as well as other activities to help mitigate the food crisis.
The Federation plans to help 300,000 people over the next eight months, through ‘cash for work’ programmes, seed and food distributions and support to nutrition centres.