As prolonged drought and political instability worsen the current food crisis that is threatening more than 19 million people across the Sahel, President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger met with UK Aid Agencies this week to discuss the food crisis and insecurity affecting the region.
The Sahel Working Group (SWG) agencies welcomed the early response shown by the Government of Niger in responding to the crisis. Together they called for donors to meet the $864 million funding gap still needed to meet the immediate emergency needs and for longer term investment in efforts to avoid future food crises.
Almost one million malnourished children are currently in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, according to Unicef, with 5.5million people at risk of severe food shortages in Niger alone. As the 'lean season' fast approaches and the rains are late and unpredictable, aid groups warn that the worst is still to come.
On-going political instability in neighbouring Mali and Libya has exacerbated the crisis, forcing more than 39,000 Malian conflict refugees and 260,000 Nigerien migrant workers to flood across the borders into Niger, placing a huge strain on the country's already severely depleted food reserves.
'Since August 2011, when crops began to fail and the rains were inadequate, we set up an emergency programme to mobilise all our efforts in alleviating the immediate situation for the people of Niger,' President Issoufou said at a meeting with the Sahel Working Group at the Foreign and Commonwealth offices in Westminster.
'However, we must also look to the long-term and we need a cohesive structural response to help tackle drought and climate change if we are to move forward,' he said, reiterating the call made by the Sahel Working Group in the report 'Pathways to Resilience in the Sahel'.
The President also appealed for international backing for his $2.6 billion 3N initiative ('Nigeriens Nourish Nigeriens') aimed improving food availability so that people are better able to cope during peaks of the hunger season, and avoiding future emergencies.
Aid agencies noted that the upcoming Olympics Hunger Event was a good opportunity for the UK and countries such as Niger to work together to change the approach to hunger crises. They called on the Niger President to urge the Resilience Champions, including Andrew Mitchell, Helen Clark, and Valerie Amos, to change the international aid system to 'put resilience first'
Notes to editors:
• The Sahel Working Group (SWG) is an informal inter-agency network, focusing mainly on Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. It was formed to identify and implement solutions to the chronic vulnerability and hunger of communities, as highlighted by the chronic food crises of 2005 and 2010. The SWG shares information, commissions research and coordinates programming and advocacy messages.
• INGOs signed up to this release are: Action Against Hunger, CAFOD, Care, Christian Aid, Concern, Islamic Relief, Plan, Oxfam, Save the Children, Tearfund and World Vision.