The crisis has caused many famished villagers from the regions of Tahoua and Abalak to abandon their homes and migrate to the larger towns and cities in search of work and food. Some have brought their children along, exposing them to the risk of being exploited. Others have left their children behind to be looked after by relatives or neighbours back in the now half-empty and starving villages.
SOS Children's Emergency Relief Programme will reach 10,000 of the most affected children and adults and will focus on the following four main strategies to both address the immediate needs of the population and put in place structures that will make such disasters less likely to occur in the future:
The distribution of food parcels to those on the verge of starvation is by far the most important priority for SOS Children. We have already carried out one such distribution during May, providing 700 large families (10,500 people in total) with both basic food staples and a special food supplements developed specifically for the nutritional needs of undernourished children. In addition, our Emergency Relief team have showed mothers how to prepare special meals rich in vitamins for their children. Two more food distributions on the same scale are scheduled for June and August.
Another important measure involve the identification of the most urgently needed medical supplies, as well as the subsequent training of medical helpers in eight villages throughout the affected area. One woman and one man from each of these villages are currently being trained to carry out basic medical procedures and treat diseases caused by poor diet, such as diarrhoea and malnutrition. This training includes the development of a medical handbook that will serve the future medical helpers as a guideline for their tasks.
Long-term structural improvement
SOS Children is also implementing structures that will secure the food supply of villages in the future. The first is the creation of cereal banks which, once they have been constructed and stocked, will be run autonomously by elected administrative committees in each of the seven villages that were chosen for this programme due to their especially precarious situation. This will protect the inhabitants not only from the effects of drought, but also from food price inflation, a frequent problem in the past.
In the long-term, however, the very system of growing crops in the region will have to be improved, to react to the ever more frequent droughts and prevent further soil erosion. This will include the creation of erosion control structures like benches, half-moons and Zai-holes, traditional water management methods that have proven successful in other countries, as well as the distribution of special, fast-growing seeds to allow the region's farmers to recover from their crop's failure.
Erratic rains and political turmoil have had a disastrous effect on Niger's harvest. According to a survey carried out by the government this month, seven million people are facing food shortages.