A severe food shortage, which could affect 5 million people or one-third of the population in Niger, is looming, according to U.N. aid agencies.
A dreadful harvest caused by prolonged drought and poor water distribution mechanisms, plus high staple food prices, and a drop in market prices for cattle are setting off alarm bells. The rate of food insecurity—the number of people who lack access to enough food to meet basic needs—has tripled compared to last year, according to the Niger government.
This year’s poor harvest in the sub-Saharan nation of West Africa is estimated to create a cereal shortage of over 450,000 tons and a fodder deficit of more than 17.6 million tons, or 67 percent of the national livestock needs, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
In addition to hunger, the problem is also malnutrition.
"The food situation in Niger has reached a critical stage," said Lauren Taylor, Niger desk officer for Action Against Hunger in a press release.
"Families with no other options are going days without eating or are resorting to begging and borrowing to cope with massive shortfalls."
U.N. aid agencies estimate that about $132 million additional aid money is needed to set up humanitarian programs to help avoid disaster. These programs will focus on food security and nutritional aid, and support in health, water, sanitation, hygiene, and logistics.
Niger is one of the least developed countries in the world and suffered from a severe food shortage in 2005 when swarms of locusts ravaged crops the preceding year. According to government statistics, 63 percent of the Nigerien population lives below the poverty line.
Niger’s political situation is also unstable after a group called the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy (CSRD) violently seized power in a coup earlier this year. The U.N. has condemned the coup, but says it is prioritizing humanitarian assistance.
"The main focus for the U.N. is to save lives in Niger. … This support would go directly to the population and allow them to participate fully in the democratization process," U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator Khardiata Lo N'diaye was reported as saying by Afrol News.