Niger is experiencing a food crisis, like other countries of the Sahel, and must cope with an influx of refugees and of its own nationals fleeing conflict in northern Mali. The ICRC and the Red Cross Society of Niger are bringing aid to the neediest.
"In the area around Tillabéry, where we are focusing our efforts, people had not yet recovered from the crisis of 2009-2010 when they had to accommodate tens of thousands of Malian refugees and Niger returnees within just a few weeks at the beginning of this year," said JÃÂ¼rg Eglin, who heads the ICRC's regional delegation for Niger and Mali. "Given the scale of their needs, they now have to rely on emergency food aid. They also need financial support, livestock feed, and support to prepare for the growing and grazing season."
Food to survive and seed to maintain hope
Owing to crop failures during the 2010-2011 growing season, Tillabéry is among the areas in the Sahel hardest hit by food insecurity. The influx of people caused by the conflict in Mali has only made the situation worse. Large numbers of people have exhausted their food stocks and are no longer able to feed themselves properly. And those who are poorest, because their purchasing power is so low, can no longer buy what they need from the market.
"Many families are resorting to desperate measures," said Jules Amoti, who coordinates economic security programmes for the ICRC in Niger and Mali. "Some are reducing the number of their daily meals, others are selling their animals for next to nothing, while still others are choosing to flee to places less affected by the crisis."
On 7 May, the ICRC and the Red Cross Society of Niger completed a distribution of food for over 110,000 people. Each household (six people on average) in 75 villages of the Ouallam, Banibangou and Abala departments in the Tillabéry area was given 200 kilograms of millet - enough to cover their grain needs for four months. In addition, 20 grain banks were topped up to make an additional supply available if needed. Between January and March, the ICRC had already distributed food to approximately the same number of people and agricultural seed to 60,000 people (each household was given 20 kilograms of improved millet seed and five kilos of cowpea seed).
In the Agadez area of northern Niger, where most people rely on livestock for their living, the ICRC is striving to improve people's access to grain. One hundred grain banks have been supplied with 1,000 tonnes of millet which will be made available to local people at prices they can afford.
Preserving the purchasing power of livestock producers
After a substantial proportion of the livestock population died during the 2010 drought, the shortage of rainfall in 2011-2012 dealt a further hard blow to the livelihoods of livestock farmers. "The lack of fodder, made worse by the long distances the herds have to go to find anything to eat, makes the animals thin," said Mr Amoti. "So the herders have to sell their animals at give-away prices."
Over the past few weeks, various actions have been taken in the Agadez area to supplement animal feed through 61 livestock feed banks. In addition, on 15 May an operation began to enable some 5,000 households to sell approximately 10,000 weakened animals at a good price at community livestock markets, where they will be slaughtered. The meat will be distributed within the communities or dried and distributed later to local facilities such as school canteens. In the same part of northern Niger, the ICRC provided support for a campaign to vaccinate and treat over a million head of livestock.
In the Tillabéry area, particularly in communities spanning the border with Mali, some 2.4 million animals were vaccinated and treated against disease and pests with ICRC support.
Beyond the emergency
"The people in the Tillabéry and Agadez areas are asking for nothing more than to be able to fend for themselves, without outside help," said Mr Amoti. "In addition to often vital food aid, a longer-term effort, including self-help measures such as cash for work, is needed to help them and to serve as a model."
In the two areas, both of which are vulnerable to the vagaries of climate, the ICRC and the Red Cross Society of Niger have undertaken to help communities restore degraded soil, cut back invasive trees, and build river weirs or deepen natural ponds by giving them, in return, cash that they can use to meet their needs. In the Agadez area, the ICRC is currently searching for the best way of making sure that the people will eventually have access to the feed they need for their animals even in drought conditions.