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Brussels, 19 July 2010

Questions and Answers on Niger and Food insecurity

Niger is one of the countries of the Sahel region, which also covers parts of Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, northern Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea. Many of the countries in the area are threatened by food insecurity, especially Niger and Chad, whose governments have declared a state of emergency and asked for international assistance.

What is the current situation in Niger?

Out of a total population of 15 million, 3.3 million are considered severely food insecure, and a further 3.8 million moderately food insecure. It is estimated that there are 378,000 severely acutely malnourished  children under 5 years of age, a further 1.2 million children moderately acutely malnourished  and 345,000 pregnant and lactating women at risk of severe acute malnutrition.

How did this happen?

The food crisis in the entire Sahel region has been deepening due to the shortfall in food production resulting from erratic rainfall at the end of 2009. In Niger a 30% (=150,000 tons of crops such as millet, sorghum, cassava and rice) decrease was reported, and this was probably a very conservative figure. This has had a dramatic impact on the livelihoods and coping mechanisms of the traditional pastoralists. It has aggravated the already difficult situation caused by continued high food prices and limited wage earning opportunities. The 70% shortage in fodder in Niger is also worrying since livestock production supports one third of the population.

What is the current situation regarding the number of internally displaced people (IDP's)?

It is estimated that around 500,000 people have been displaced due to the crisis.

The population displacement started with a large-scale migration of families seeking casual labour opportunities Work opportunities, however, are very scarce and when available are poorly paid. This is linked both to the extra supply of available workers and to the impact of the international economic crisis on the Sahel economies. There has also been a substantial reduction in the remittances sent home by expatriate workers.

What does the European Commission do in the region in terms of humanitarian aid?

Since the last Sahel food crisis in 2005, the Commission's Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO) has funded for a total €140 million a major multi-sector strategy to reduce acute malnutrition in the whole region. Over 1 million children have been treated in the past 5 years.

Its permanent presence in the field, with offices in Niamey, Ouagadougou and Dakar made it possible for its humanitarian experts to identify the unfolding problems at the end of 2009. The Commission has played a strategic role in the response to this crisis, by quickly releasing funds to assist the victims of the crisis (the first allocation of 10 MEUR was made already at the end of 2009 followed by further allocations of 20 MEUR and 24 MEUR from the European Development Fund) and calling on its implementing partners (NGOs, the Red Cross family and the UN family) to scale up their activities to meet the increased needs. The active presence in Niger of a great many humanitarian agencies financed by DG ECHO meant that actions could be lauched quickly to tackle the evolving situation. The Commission also shared its expertise and information with the other donors and has been calling for greater international community coordiantion in respons eto the crisis.

And for Niger?

In June this year, the European Commission adopted a €24 million funding Decision to address food insecurity in the Sahel zone of West Africa, of which €15 million was for Niger. Shortly after the Decision was adopted, Kristalina Georgieva, Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, made an official visit to Niger, to see the situation on the ground and to discuss the critical food insecurity in the region.

This latest decision brings the total Commission funding (humanitarian and other aid instruments, particularly from the European Development Fund) or Niger since 2009 to € 90 million. These funds made it possible for partners to upsacle activities to meet the additional needs created by the crisis. The number of children treated for severe malnutrition has been vastly increased and food assistance operations have been extended for the worst affected populations. .

Have lessons been learnt from the last crisis in 2005 or is this funding being used in the traditional way?

Many lessons have been learnt since the last Niger crisis in 2005. The main ones include the usefulness of using direct cash transfers to beneficiaries and cash for work to improve access to food. It should be emphasised that the current food and nutrition crisis in the Sahel and in Niger is much more a problem of access to food rather than food availability. Food is available in the local markets albeit at a high price. Cash transfer and cash for work activities are therefore much more efficient and cost effective than food commodity imports. Traders will continue to provide food through the markets so long as there is liquidity to purchase it. Direct cash transfers to the beneficiaries in regular small monthly amounts help to stabilise market conditions and support small local food producers. It also helps to restore dignity to the beneficiaries and to encourage self-sufficiency. Both local and regional (Mali and Benin in particular have surplus production) purchases should be encouraged and funded.

The other main lesson is to pro-actively target the malnourished children when they are at the moderate stage where if treated correctly the survival rate is much higher than when have slipped into the severely malnourished category where they are at risk of permanent damage. Children who suffer from severe acute malnutrition in the first 24 months of life can be stunted for life.

How are the Commission's humanitarian funds being distributed?

European Commission funds are being used to finance operations in the nutrition and health sectors, including the treatment of acute malnutrition, cash interventions targeting the most vulnerable households where pertinent and possible, as well providing livelihoods support to agriculturalists and pastoralists. Funds are channelled through UN agencies, the Red Cross and non-governmental organisations.

Cf IP/10/404

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