afrol News, 22 March - The Red Cross today confirms an earlier food crisis warning by the government of Niger, saying the number of malnourished children is growing rapidly. Some 8 million Nigeriens are already facing food shortages.
After mapping the situation in the Sahelian country, the Red Cross/Crescent is appealing for US$ 1 million (or euro 700,000) to mitigate the effects of last year's bad harvest in Niger. According to an assessment conducted by the Niger government, more than half of the country's 15 million people are facing food shortages due to irregular and poor rainfalls.
The US-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS) says the number of malnourished children being admitted to feeding centres was 60 percent greater in January 2010 than at the same time the previous year. FEWS predicts a "serious food security emergency" in Niger this year.
"We are very concerned about the fact that more than half of rural households have no cereals left in stock," said Mamane Issa, secretary general of the Niger Red Cross. "Rapid assistance for the landless rural poor in particular is important in order to avoid displacements and the sale of community assets."
The International Red Cross says it aims to support its Niger branch in assisting 300,000 people in 120 villages in Diffa, Zinder and Tahoua regions. Cash is to be provided to vulnerable people in exchange for work to improve the environment in order to increase agricultural production. Food and seeds are to be distributed partners and health centres are to be supported to provide appropriate nutritional services to affected communities.
"The peak of the food shortage is expected in June. We need to take early action to alleviate the effects by increasing community resilience and by supporting community coping mechanisms," said Youcef Ait-Chellouche, Red Cross Disaster management coordinator for West and Central Africa.
"It is also important to support early recovery such as providing seeds for the next planting season in order to avoid a poor harvest this year as well," he added.
The Niger food crisis alert comes less than a week after the Red Cross made a similar alert for parts of neighbouring Chad. In the parts of that country closest to the Niger border, large-scale malnourishment had been registered. Also here, relief work had been started immediately and a bigger crisis was expected later this year.
After many years of favourable rains in the Sahel - the nutritious but dry zone between the Sahara desert and the savannas of West Africa - this season has seen drought in smaller and larger areas all over the region. 2010 is set to be among the toughest years for food security in West and Central Africa in the last decade.
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