Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Niger: Niger facing severe food crisis

UN - United Nations aid agencies and their partners in Niger today appealed for an additional $132 million to fund humanitarian programmes in the West African country, which is facing a severe food crisis following poor harvests caused by inadequate rainfall last year.

Food shortages and malnutrition have affected an estimated 4.7 million people, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported in a revised emergency humanitarian action plan prepared to support the Government’s efforts to quickly mobilize additional funds.

A total of $190.7 million is required, but $57.8 million of that amount is already available, leaving a deficit of $132.9 million. Requirements could, however, increase when the findings of a comprehensive humanitarian survey scheduled for later this month are released, OCHA added.

In line with the national authorities’ priorities, the humanitarian country team in Niger has prioritized food security and nutritional aid, and support in health, water, sanitation, hygiene and logistics, according to OCHA.

Inadequate or poor distribution of rainfall has caused large deficits in Niger’s agricultural and fodder production. Poor harvests have created a cereals deficit of more than 410,000 metric tons, while fodder shortfalls have been estimated at more than 16 million metric tons or 67 per cent of the national livestock needs. Many water sources have also dried up, adding to the hardship pastoralists are facing.

UN Humanitarian Coordinator Khardiata Lo N'diaye told a news conference in New York last week that the new national authorities in Niger, which came to power on 18 February, have launched an appeal seeking international assistance.

Niger underwent a coup last month, when the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy (CSRD) seized control of the Government during a gun battle in the capital, Niamey.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the coup and stressed that the UN stands ready to support initiatives aimed at peacefully resolving Niger’s political and constitutional crisis.

When asked about the coup, Ms. Lo N’diaye acknowledged that a return to a democratic institution was a key priority in the country, but the facing need of the population was also a priority.

“The main focus for the UN is to save lives in Niger… this support would go directly to the population and allow them to participate fully in the democratization process,” she said.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has already more than doubled its food aid to Niger, Executive Director Josette Sheeran said last month, adding that the food situation in the country was becoming a “major humanitarian challenge.”

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