Although an example of democratic rule and governance in West Africa, Niger is the second least developed country in the world according to the UNDP’s human development indicators. In 2005, Niger faced a severe food security crisis, aggravated by serious drought in the Sahel region and by locust invasions, which threatened the livelihoods of 3.6 million people. Three million of these were considered highly vulnerable to food insecurity, and more than 200,000 malnourished children were admitted to some 800 therapeutic feeding centres around the country.
This food security crisis was compounded by a variety of structural factors such as rapid population growth, unsustainable farming practices, deep and widespread poverty, lack of access to essential health services, and intra-household inequities that work against women and children, including poor child feeding and childcare practices. In the face of this crisis, the OCHA Regional Office for West Africa (ROWA) supported the UNCT response, provided surge capacity and facilitated the establishment of an OCHA presence in Niger.
In view of the food security crisis in Niger, OCHA’s ROWA developed objectives including:
- Advise the HC on issues related to the crisis
- Set up an operational information management mechanism
- Advocate for people affected by food insecurity and child under-nutrition
- Reinforce coordination mechanisms implemented by the government at national and regional levels
- Organise joint assessment missions to identify the needs of vulnerable populations and report on the humanitarian situation
- Support efforts to reinforce preparedness for crises through the elaboration of contingency plans
An OCHA emergency management team was deployed in July 2005 to establish an OCHA presence, including a HIC, one of the main purposes of which was to centralise all information produced by the humanitarian community in Niger. OCHA also produced regular situation reports on the crisis and the humanitarian response. A humanitarian contact list was developed, as well as maps representing the location of vulnerable populations, needs and interventions.
OCHA also facilitated the HC’s contact with media for advocacy efforts through talking points, press releases, and so forth. In order to take into account new vulnerabilities and needs associated with the desert locust invasion and drought in the countries of the Sahel, including Niger, OCHA reviewed the initial CAP for West Africa in January 2005.
In May, OCHA provided support to the UNCT in Niger on the elaboration of the inter-agency Flash Appeal, which was revised in August 2005. Some US$ 87.64 million of the CAP was funded, representing 36 percent of the US$ 244,003,531 requested. OCHA contributed to the reinforcement of coordination mechanisms in Niamey and at field level in the most affected regions. At the national level, OCHA supported the global coordination meeting by collecting and analysing information from partners (UN, NGOs, donors and civil society), and providing global information on the crisis. Sectoral coordination meetings were held regularly, with OCHA’s support, in Maradi, Tahoua and Zinder.
OCHA participated in regular meetings on the vital issues of nutrition, health and food security, prepared terms of reference for them, and chaired the information and communication working group. Regular contact was also maintained with the government, NGOs, civil society actors and donors.
The HIC’s series of thematic maps, contact lists and reports, especially in the nutrition sector, together with its website presence, was acknowledged as relevant and useful by the humanitarian community. Partners in the field have actively contributed to these products and provided feedback to ensure their accuracy.
Humanitarian partners demonstrated their appreciation and use of HIC Niger’s material by reproducing them in a range of their information tools, including reports on the response to the nutrition crisis and their own situation reports. OCHA map products were used by UNICEF, WHO and WFP, and the HIC actively supported the creation of a GIS/data working group.
This range of accurate information proved to be crucial in preparing the documents for the Sahel consultation held in Dakar in November 2005. The Government of Niger also benefited from technical guidance and support from the HIC for the development of a database in which to enter data collected on government food distributions. Such capacity is essential for post-crisis activities, including the reporting and review of actual distribution, as well as noting lessons learned to prevent/mitigate future food crises.
Regular situation reports were produced in close collaboration with the humanitarian community at national and regional levels, including in the worst affected regions of Tahoua, Maradi and Zinder. These enhanced information sharing on the food and nutritional situation, as well as on the responses of the government and the humanitarian community. The situation reports were also used to support advocacy for the most vulnerable population and for resource mobilisation.
The deployment of surge capacity from the Regional Office from May to August 2005 allowed for early establishment of coordination mechanisms and resource mobilisation tools within the framework of the CAP and the Flash Appeal.
Lessons learned from the neglected and silent crisis of the Sahel, as illustrated in Niger during 2005, indicated that the scope and complexity of the situation required less focus on traditional response tools, which are often developed within the context of areas of conflict. In order to strengthen the dialogue among all actors concerned with food insecurity and nutritional crises, and to ensure that all tools available are used to simultaneously tackle acute and chronic vulnerability, OCHA initiated the Regional Consultation on the Sahel in November 2005.
A wide range of development, humanitarian, governmental, non-governmental and UN stakeholders attended the first consultation, and recommended that OCHA pursue this process in 2006. The process is expected to lead to the formulation of an Integrated Action Plan for the Sahel that will propose specific ways to bridge development and humanitarian activities.