Niger: a critical time
I travelled to one of the communities at highest risk during this food crisis in Niger. Our distribution there is working, but the coming harvest still depends on the rains. Will they come?
Concern country director Niall Tierney and I left Niamey early in the morning for a one hour flight to Tahoua, our operational base in Niger since 2003. After visiting the Concern office to meet the staff, we set off again, this time with Amanda McClelland.
Amanda is managing the mitigation project, dealing with Concern’s response to the worsening food situation. We visited one of the villages, Samo, where food is being distributed.
We travelled for mile after mile through desert and semi-desert lands with almost no trees or vegetation. This project – funded by Irish Aid and ECHO, the European Humanitarian agency – is supporting 116 of the most vulnerable villages in the Tahoua district.
Four hundred volunteers have been mobilised to encourage women in these villages to come with their children to feeding centres organised by Concern.
All eligible beneficiaries will receive a basic food ration. But women with moderately malnourished children will receive supplementary rations. Severely malnourished children will be referred, with support from Concern, to the Ministry of Health hospital in Tahoua.
The feeding centre was bustling with colourfully dressed women and their children. In one day, it provided food for 1,300 women. In addition to receiving much needed food, the women also used the gathering to do some small trading and catch up with their friends.
But underlying this good cheer, the reality is that the numbers of moderately malnourished children at these centres has sharply increased in the five weeks since our feeding programme started. We are monitoring these statistics very carefully as we move into the “hungry months” of June to October.
The rains are due to start in early June and indeed some rain has fallen in recent days, bringing welcome relief from the 40 degree plus temperatures. But the rains, which are so crucial to the next harvest, could also increase the spread of malaria, affecting malnutrition levels.
The next few weeks in Niger are critical.