By Eryn Bailey
Published September 1, 2010
The current food crisis in Niger and Chad is a symptom of long-term poverty, cyclical agricultural crisis, and lack of infrastructural development. In 2009, the region endured famine and food shortages due to deforestation, overpopulation, and environmental changes. The coping mechanisms of these countries have been exhausted from years of disaster response, diminishing their grain reserves and other emergency programs.
The 2009 harvest in both Chad and Niger was very poor and the next harvest won’t be for another two or three months. The World Food Programme (WFP) has prioritised food rations to households with children under two years old, since they are most vulnerable to malnutrition.
Rob Bailey, the Acting Regional Campaigner of OXFAM International who describes the situation as”quite a desperate” as malnutrition rates are well above emergency levels, estimated that these criteria leave 60 percent of the population of Niger unreached by the WFP.
Floods have bombarded the eight regions of Niger since the beginning of August 2010. Aid workers are concerned about effectively reaching victims since floods from the rainy season have prevented efforts to disperse resources.
“Floods are making it very hard for humanitarian agencies on the ground to make an effective response,” Bailey explains.
Floods have left 110,000 people homeless, washed away entire crops and the subsequent temperature drop has weakened livestock. People in Niger and Chad face famine, malnutrition, and loss of livelihood with the three-fold threat that the famine and floods have caused. Only strategic planning to revamp the agriculture and relief system will prevent the cycle of crisis that continues to plague these countries.
The United Nations Office for Coordinating Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is at work on the ground in Niger coordinating aid efforts by multiple NGOs. OCHA’s Deputy Spokesperson, Nicholas Reader, says there is an urgent need for help from the international community.
OCHA estimated in May 2010 that 2 million people in Chad would be affected by the drought, roughly 18 percent of the population. The funding level request for the entire region of West Africa in 2010 was US$724 million. However, only US$303 million has been received at this time. Given the dire circumstances, that amount is not enough to supply countries like Niger and Chad with necessary resources to combat the current crisis.
Bailey believes that the international community must aid Chad and Niger in building an agricultural programme resistant to natural disasters. Access to clean drinking water and improved agricultural practices will safeguard a recurring chain of calamity and need. Aid and disaster relief programmes service only the short term needs of individuals they help.
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Real help to Niger and Chad requires sustainability development projects and systems that can be maintained by the governments of the countries even when funding and NGO programmes are suspended or terminated. Will aid programmes invest in longer term endeavours that will truly help, or will a short term emergency effort overshadow the nuanced infrastructural imbalance that undermines the crisis in Chad and Niger?