Samuel Hauenstein Swan

Niger: Revisit an unfinished Crisis

As hundreds of thousands of families across Niger face major food shortages and malnutrition, UK aid fromthe Department for International Development is funding Action Against Hunger’scash for work programmes to help communities help themselves through the crisis and beyond.

Seasonal hunger in the Sahel has once again escalated into a major food crisis. In Niger, shortfalls in food production, rising food prices and on-going poverty have pushed tens of thousands of families into food insecurity and thousands of children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

Multiple and complex factors have contributed to the deteriorating situation in the Sahel: 

  • Erratic weather patterns have resulted in poor harvests, with 25 per cent less crops than last year and the annual lean season has started earlier.
  • Food shortages have triggered rises in food prices in markets. Corn prices in the Sahel are 60 to 85 per cent higher than average prices over the past five years.
  • Almost 20% of the population of the Sahel permanently live on the edge of crisis, and small additional shocks such as poor rains, food shortages or increases in food prices can have dramatic effects.
  • Communities are still vulnerable, having not yet had a chance to recover from previous food crises.  

Last October Zara and Yahouza’s family experienced one of their worst harvests for years, with only enough supplies to last a few weeks.  They try to make a living selling fire wood and Yahouza travels to Nigeria every year in search of work.  However this year they do not have enough money for sufficient food or water and their youngest daughter is once more treated for acute malnutrition.  

A bowl of Jiga leaves (a local plant) and occasionally dried peanut paste, with a little oil, salt and chilli, is the only meal that the whole family is able to share betweenthem all day, every day. 

In spite of traders offering nutritious foods and ingredients in markets, poor families can no longer afford to buy even their staple food of millet, as prices have risen too high. To make matters worse women like Zara now have very few customers buying their firewood.   

Dodo Souley, nutrition supervisor for Action Against Hunger in Keita, is part of the team responding to the emergency, diagnosing and treating malnourished children across Niger.

Three month old twins Ousseina and Alassane weighed just 4 lb when they arrived at the feeding centre. Many mothers in Niger do not have enough food, so become weak and then struggle to breastfeed. Zali’shusband had to migrate to find employment, so she needs to work on the farm preparing the fields before the rains come.

The triple burden on mothers of daily labour to provide an income, caring for numerous children and preparing the land forthe next harvest, forces many to make impossible choices. This high burden isone of the reasons why only 27% of women in Niger are breastfeeding their children exclusively, which compromises early growth and development. 

Action Against Hunger’s cash for work programmes give families a wage to buy food, allowing men to stay in the familyhome instead of leaving to find work, and so easing the pressure off women. The programmes are funded by UK aid from the Department for International Development and are assisting morethan 4,250 people across region of Keita. 

Over 40 communities in the region are involved in the cash for work programmes that aim at improving rural infrastructure, like small dams, which help to retain run-off rain water to produce better crop yields, and also give people money to purchase food and otheressentials.

Whilst progress is beingmade, the crisis is far from over. There still remains much work to help families weather the crisis and prepare for the coming harvest and the future ahead.    

Using Format