June 21 2010

SOS Children's Villages battles the food crisis in Niger

21/06/2010 - At the beginning of May 2010, SOS Children's Villages launched an emergency relief programme in Niger to help children and communities survive the effects of the developing food crisis. The programme includes immediate measures to feed children and families, as well as long-term measures for the prevention of future crises.

Photo: SOS Archives
Droughts and erratic rains are causing crops to fail in Niger - Photo: SOS Archives

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 any work or food they can find. Some have brought their children along, exposing them to the risk of being exploited in uncounted ways in exchange for food. 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 Villages' programme will reach some 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.


Photo: SOS Archives
Feeding the desperate children and families is the first priority - Photo: SOS Archives
Immediate help

The distribution of food parcels to the populace on the verge of starvation is by far the most pressing matter. SOS Children's Villages has already carried out one such distribution during the month of May, providing 700 large families (some 10,500 people in total) with both basic food staples and a special food supplement developed specifically for the nutritional needs of undernourished children. In addition, the emergency relief team of SOS Children's Villages 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.

Photo: SOS Archives
Medical staff of SOS Children's Villages assess the most pressing medical needs - Photo: SOS Archives

Another important measure involved the identification of the most urgently needed medical supplies, which is closely tied to the subsequent training of designated medical helpers in eight villages throughout the affected area that are located at great distances from any kind of medical infrastructure. 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 a 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.

Photo: SOS Archives
In the long term, elected administrative committees will oversee the programmes in the villages - Photo: SOS Archives

Long-term structural improvement

SOS Children's Villages 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 run, 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 food insecure(see previous report on the food crisis in Niger).