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CURRENT ISSUE:  August 8, 2005VOL. 43, NO. 14Oakland, CA

Food crisis grows in Niger

As the West African country of Niger struggles to feed millions of people struck by famine, Catholic Relief Services is providing emergency aid to save lives in the critical weeks before the next harvest.

“There are thousands of acutely malnourished children,” said Christopher Daniel, senior regional representative for West Africa at CRS. These children, the most vulnerable in times of famine, “will die without intervention.”

According to CRS, some areas of the country have lost 60 to 80 percent of crops, leading to high rates of malnutrition. Families are eating leaves and grass and selling personal items, and some are migrating to neighboring cities and countries in search of work or food.

The famine was caused by two devastating events – swarms of locusts, which devoured vegetation in a wide area, and a crippling drought. As a result, farmers lacked seeds for the next season’s crops, and some 3.6 million people face severe hunger.
Niger’s population includes farmers and nomadic cattle herders, and both
groups have been hit hard, Daniel said. “Normally they eat a lot of millet,” he said, “and this is one of the crops most decimated by the recent locust invasion.” Livestock, such as cattle, goats and chickens, also often depend on the grain.

Many cattle belonging to the Fulani, a nomadic tribe, have also died, he said, because “their pasture land is so parched.” This leaves the people “without their prized possessions and, in many cases, their only possessions.”

CRS, along with Caritas Niger, has been responding to the food shortage since late 2004, after locusts descended on the country. Through Work for Food programs and emergency food distribution, the organization has fed 237,000 people during this crisis and provided seeds to 24,000 farmers.

Now, Daniel said, CRS has suspended the Work for Food program and is distributing free food locally. In addition, he said, the organization is helping support therapeutic feeding in an effort to save lives as the crisis worsens. Helen Keller International will run the feeding centers, which provide fortified milk and porridge.

Some 140,000 people will benefit from the emergency food distribution, Daniel said, and it is expected to continue until the next harvest, at the end of September or early October. CRS will buy food from local producers when possible and also distribute donations from organizations such as the World Food Program.

Niger, he said, is an arid country suffering from cyclical droughts every two to three years and also from periodic invasions of locusts, which tend to come every seven to 10 years. “Even in a good year when the rains come,” he said, “it is still very arid and not easy to raise crops.”

In this “chronically food insecure part of the world,” Daniel said, CRS is trying to address the underlying problems, to “build people’s assets” and help them create secure livelihoods. The aim is to equip them with “some way of coping with the shocks, the locusts and the droughts.”

To make a contribution to CRS relief efforts in Niger, checks should be clearly marked “Africa in Crisis: Niger” and sent to Catholic Relief Services, PO Box 17090, Baltimore, MD 21203-7090. More information about CRS is available at www.crs.org.

Severely malnourished Sahibou Mahaman, 1, struggles to swallow milk at an emergency feeding center run by Doctors Without Borders in northwestern Niger, July 30. RNS PHOTO/REUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly


In Lilato, a Niger village, a man returns home with a sack of wheat from Catholic Relief Services. Locust infestation and drought have extended the usual non-growing season (May-July) and caused several malnutrition.


These girls stand with a loaves of bread outside their homes in the village of Madoufa.
REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly


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