February 2012, Niger: A vendor in a market in Niger's capital Niamey. Food insecurity is affecting over 40 per cent of the population. Credit: OCHA/David Ohana
Go beyond the emergencies and deal with the country’s structural problems, says Humanitarian Coordinator Fodé Ndiaye
More than 40 per cent of people in Niger face food insecurity and over 50 per cent of children under age 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition. Conflict in northern Mali has led to tens of thousands of refugees fleeing to Niger, compounding the food and nutrition crisis.
Since July, heavy rains and flooding across the country have affected more than half a million people, many of whom still live in schools and mosques. Humanitarian organizations warn that the flooding of the Niger River could worsen a cholera outbreak that has claimed more than 80 lives this year. So far, nearly 4,000 cholera cases have been reported in areas close to the river.
Fodé Ndiaye became the Humanitarian Coordinator in Niger in February 2012. He talks about how the people of Niger and the humanitarian agencies working there are coping with multiple crises in one of the poorest countries in the world.
Q. Heavy rains have led to flooding in many parts of Niger since July. How severe is the situation?
The situation is very severe. According to recent Government figures, there have been nearly 70 casualties, and more than 525,000 people, or 80,000 families, have been affected by the floods. There has been damage to schools, health centres, water wells, market places, roads and bridges. The humanitarian community fears that cases of cholera and malaria could increase due to the lack of hygiene and sanitation.
Q. Before the floods, millions of people, about one in three Nigeriens, needed food assistance. Have the floods compounded the food crisis?
The flooding has worsened the humanitarian situation in Niger. This year, we are facing a major food crisis affecting 6.4 million people, mostly due to a significant cereal deficit, high cereal prices and high poverty levels. It is really a difficult time for Niger because there have been droughts, the threat of a cholera epidemic, the threat of locusts, security issues due to a large refugee population and now the floods. The Government, UN agencies and humanitarian partners were already providing food assistance to those affected by the food crisis and floods. But we need to increase the assistance to reach everyone in need.
We not only need to provide food assistance, we also need shelters, tarpaulins, jerry cans, a clean water supply and so on. So far, we have received support from various UN agencies and donors who are reaching about 20,000 families with aid, but we need to reach more people.
Q. Tillabéry, West of Niamey, is the hardest hit of all regions. It has a large refugee population, it has been dealing with thousands of cholera cases and continues to face food insecurity. What is the humanitarian community doing to help the people in this region?
The humanitarian community is responding to the situation in Tillabéry as well as in other regions. In the last five months, allocations totalling US$21 million from theCentral Emergency Response Fund have helped the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) respond to the food and nutrition crisis, the cholera epidemic and the refugee situation. Funding from UNHCR continues to support 57,000 refugees in camps, and WFP has scaled up its food distribution. Other humanitarian organizations, such as the Red Cross, OXFAM, World Vision, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)-SWISS, Plan International and local NGOs, are also helping to provide food and sanitation assistance.
Q. Is there enough in-country capacity to address these challenges or is more international assistance needed?
Niger is ranked 186th out of the 187 countries listed on the Human Development Index. We need to go beyond emergencies and deal with structural problems the country faces in order to help communities handle future shocks and become more resilient. Humanitarian organizations need to work with the Government and help strengthen the capacity of the local disaster-management agency.
Reporting by OCHA Niger