The top United Nations humanitarian official arrived in Niger today on a visit to help focus world attention on the Sahel, a West African sub-Saharan region that is home to the poorest countries on Earth, with over 10 million people suffering from a food crisis this year alone.
During her three-day visit to Niger, where nearly 7 million of these people try to eke out an existence, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos will meet with representatives of the Government, UN, national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other humanitarian partners.
She will visit the Zinder and Diffa regions, some of the areas most affected, and will ask donors to provide more aid to the country, which will still confront the effects of the crisis next year. A major crisis has so far been averted thanks to timely humanitarian aid and better rains, and some 5 million people have benefited so far from food aid, including over 220,000 severely malnourished children under five who are now out of danger.
The Government has called for international aid through a $358 million emergency appeal, of which over $255 million has so far been provided, allowing UN agencies and NGOs to undertake life-saving activities. But the situation remains fragile, with high rates of chronic malnutrition and many vulnerable communities across the country.
“We urge donors to maintain their support in order to ensure that we are able to reach the most vulnerable populations and help address the structural causes of the cyclical crises that are hitting Niger with increasing frequency,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a news release.
Not only does Niger face an average of one food crisis every three years, often from drought, but this year rains, beneficial in some areas, have caused additional problems as torrential downpours and exceptionally high water levels of the Niger and other rivers have affected a further 227,000 people in the land-locked, semi-desert country.
A decline in cereal production of over 410,000 tons and a fodder shortage this year are the primary causes of the crisis. Livestock, a mainstay of household livelihoods, has been severely affected.
“Addressing the underlying causes of the crises faced by Niger is essential to prevent recurrence,” OCHA said. “Partners on the ground must continue to work more closely together to develop innovative, comprehensive approaches that address the structural roots of the recurrent crises in the country.”
Health is a concern across the country, with a cholera epidemic that has so far affected more than 900 people, killing 60 of them. Meanwhile, the rainy season has triggered a peak in malaria rates, with more than 2 million cases recorded so far this year, double the number for the same period in 2009.