Caritas: Get Aid to Niger Before Rains Come

Scope of Hunger Crisis Revealed After Coup

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NIAMEY, Niger, APRIL 23, 2010 ( The international Caritas organization is urging food aid for Niger before the rainy season will make it impossible to deliver assistance to remote regions.

Caritas Niger volunteer Bruno Sossou estimated that workers have 45 days to get food in.

“In some areas, the situation is already very bad,» he said. «Some people are only eating wild plants. Aid needs to arrive quickly.»

Caritas said in a communiqué today that Niger is of particular concern, but the whole region is also in danger from last year’s droughts and the long-term effects of previous food shortage.

The aid organization reported that more than 800,000 children under the age of five in Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, northern Nigeria and Chad are classified as needing treatment for severe malnutrition.

“The crisis has been underestimated in Niger,» explained the secretary-general of Caritas Niger, Raymond Yoro. «Food insecurity was a taboo subject under the former government, overthrown in a coup on Feb. 18. It was not until the media and international associations put pressure on the government to conduct a survey on this issue that we got a clearer picture of the emergency’s scope.»

That survey showed nearly 60% of the country’s population are running out of food — some 7.8 million people.

“The political environment is crucial for aid interventions to succeed,» Yoro said. «At least, now we are free to coordinate our efforts with other NGOs and have access to detailed geographical surveys that allows us to step in where it is most needed.»

Caritas is preparing to launch an appeal to provide emergency food aid; it is projecting food deliveries for almost 250,000 households through free cereal distributions and cash-for-work activities. There will be a special focus on children and pregnant or breastfeeding mothers.

“In a first phase, we need to tackle the emergency with food aid,» said Maliki Oumarou, director of emergencies at Caritas Niger. «But then, we also want to start a rehabilitation program through capacity building, encouraging income-generating activities in rural areas and a long-term improvement of food security.»

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