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Niger: a frightful message

I left Niger last week very worried. The food situation in the country could seriously deteriorate in the coming months, putting the lives of many people at risk.

Alerting the world

I promised the Concern staff, who are working so hard in Niger, that I would do whatever possible to alert the wider world of the seriousness of this crisis. 

My message is simple: the latest Niger government/UN estimate is that 7.1 million people – nearly half the population – do not have enough food. 3.3 million of them are severely at risk. 

Getting worse

There are some significant warning signs that the situation is getting worse as we enter the traditional “hungry months” of June to October. The number of malnourished children coming to Concern and other feeding centres has sharply increased in recent weeks. 

Farmers are disposing of their livestock in large numbers, driving down the price of meat in the market. This is a worrying indicator which often signals a worsening food situation.

Taking notice 

The Irish media are beginning to report on the situation. Richard Crowley interviewed me on RTE and the Irish Examiner carried an op-ed I wrote on my last day in Niger. ReliefNet and IRIN have also produced good material about how aid agencies are responding to the worsening situation. 

Alarming statistics

I used a visit to Washington this week to brief Ambassador Bill Gaverlink, the recently appointed Head of the Food Security Initiative in USAID, about what I had seen and learned in Niger. He comes to his new job with vast experience of food and other humanitarian crises in Africa, but was alarmed to hear some of the statistics I presented him with.

What next?

Up-to-date and credible statistics and indicators are critical if donors are to be persuaded of the seriousness and urgency of the situation in Niger. The next step is moving from a sense of urgency to delivery of meaningful assistance to hungry people. 

This will be, I fear, the next challenge.