• Saturday, December 20, 2014
  • A program of IPS Inter Press Service supported by the Dutch MDG3 Fund

    Hunger Haunts Niger

    Credit WFP

    Women at the cereal bank, Niger. Credit WFP/Judith Schuler

    Niamey/Rome: More than seven million people, more than half the population of Niger that is, remains at risk of starvation despite a marginal improvement in recent days. And of that half, women are far more at risk, and far more affected by the severe shortages.

    “We have launched a massive campaign to feed millions of people hit by drought, poor harvests and high food prices,” World Food Programme (WFP) spokesperson Jane Howard told TerraViva. “We are focusing on the needs of women and children, who are always the most vulnerable in this kind of crisis.”

    Limitations in money and supplies have meant that WFP aid is directed primarily at families with children under the age of two, according to Oxfam, which distributes food for the WFP. “International systems didn’t invest enough in the response,” said Robert Bailey, campaigns and policy manager for Oxfam in West Africa.

    It’s been hard days, with women hit hardest. “Every week, we record more than 40 cases of malnutrition in our clinic,” Balkissa Issa, a nurse in the eastern region of Zinder told IPS.

    WFP is reaching out with aid to about five million people in Niger in September, as it did in August. As harvest time approaches, there are signs that the worst may be over, but women are at the centre of challenges that lie ahead.

    “Part of WFP’s response to the emergency in Niger is to help women farmers cope with the lean season, the time between harvests when food funs short, by setting up cereal banks,” Howard said. “Small-scale farmers can borrow grain at low interest rates when food supplies are running low, then pay back the ‘loan’ of grain when their own harvest comes in.”

    WFP is also working with partners such as Care to teach women how to monitor the stocks in the warehouse and how to oversee loans for local families in need. Because many women are illiterate, they receive lessons in reading, writing and maths to help them make the food bank work. They are also taught about health, nutrition and childcare.

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