Top UN officials arrive in Niger to draw attention humanitarian crisis

16 February 2012

Two senior United Nations officials arrived in Niger today in an effort to draw the world’s attention to the worsening food shortages in the country and the wider Sahel region of West Africa where millions of people are in need of assistance due to poor harvests caused by recurring drought.

The joint mission by Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, and Helen Clark, the Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), is intended to lay the foundation for an integrated regional response approach that will involve emergency and development initiatives to build people’s resilience to climatic and environmental shocks.

A third of Niger’s population suffers from food insecurity and 330,000 children under the age of five are at risk of severe acute malnutrition because of last year’s poor harvest and high food prices. More than one million children under the age of five in the entire region are at risk of malnutrition.

“We know what is coming, and we know what to do to save lives,” said Ms. Amos, who is also the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator. “While we cannot stop this crisis from taking place, we are taking steps to avert a catastrophe.

“Across the Sahel region, international agencies have called for more than $724 million to support national efforts to respond to the crisis. To date, donors have provided $135 million, and relief activities have already begun. But we need more resources now to prevent a large-scale crisis,” she said.

Miss Clark stressed that immediate humanitarian response to the crisis in Niger must be followed up with support for programmes for the country’s long-term development to build its resilience to drought and break the cycle of recurring food shortages.

The UN officials met with Niger’s Prime Minister Brigi Rafini and key ministers working on food security. They also conferred with members of the UN country team and representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Ms. Amos and Miss Clark will tomorrow travel to the south-western region of Tillabéry to see local projects that are promoting food security and tackling malnutrition. They are also scheduled to meet with President Mahamadou Issoufou and donor representatives.

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UN and partners urge rapid response to food crisis in West Africa’s Sahel

Delegates at a meeting convened by the United Nations to draw up strategies to respond the humanitarian crisis in West Africa’s drought-prone Sahel region today called for comprehensive and rapid assistance to the millions of people affected, especially children and women.