1 June 2012

Niger: Local Population and Malian Refugees Hard Hit By Food Crisis

Photo: Emilio Labrador
Rebel forces in the north of Mali propose Timbuktu for the capital of a new state.

Already hard hit by a poor growing season in 2011-2012, with rain at the wrong time and in all the wrong places, the population of North Tillabéry in Niger now has to share its meagre resources with the many refugees arriving from Mali.

According to the authorities in Niger, more than 30,000 Malians from the Ménaka area and an estimated 8,000 Niger nationals living in Mali have found refuge in Niger since the beginning of the year, fleeing the fighting between government forces and armed groups.

Amanita Walid, from Ménaka, arrived in Niger with nothing but the clothes on her back. Members of her family and other people she knew ended up scattered across several sites. Despite the difficulties, she had a genuine sense of security: "The real change when we arrived here was not hearing any more gunfire."

On 7 May, the ICRC and the Red Cross Society of Niger completed a food distribution operation 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 20 kg 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 had supplied agricultural seed to 60,000 people (each household received 20 kg of improved millet seed and five kilos of cowpea seed). The rainy season, expected to begin in June, is awaited with impatience.

Some of this footage was shot in Garbey, a village about 50 km from the Malian border. Here, the food crisis meant that people and livestock had almost no food at all. The most vulnerable people - residents and refugees alike - take desperate measures, such as reducing the number of meals they eat each day, selling off their animals for next to nothing, and moving to places less affected by the crisis. Others are forced to eat baobab leaves. The people of Niger are showing great solidarity with the Malian refugees, but this cannot possibly enable everyone to eat.

As well as making vital deliveries of food and other emergency aid, the ICRC and the Red Cross Society of Niger have launched a number of innovative joint programmes.

Tizégorou (another location appearing in the footage, also in the Tillabéry area) is a farming village, lying 207 km from Niger's capital Niamey. Here, a "cash for work" programme aims to restore degraded soil, cut back invasive trees, and build weirs on rivers to catch rainwater, making it easier to grow fodder for livestock. In return for this work, people are given cash that they can use to meet their basic needs and settle the debts they have run up during this very difficult period.

According to the Niger authorities, almost 35 per cent of households in the country - over 5.4 million people - are affected to varying degrees by food insecurity. The grain shortage is put at 692,000 tonnes.

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