Echoes of 2005: CARE urges international community not to make the same mistakes in Niger food crisis

26 Apr 2010 15:26:43 GMT

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As the grip of drought and malnutrition pushes Niger further into a drawn-out food crisis, and the world’s attention is diverted by Haiti, leading aid agency CARE notes disturbing parallels between the current situation and the disastrous 2005 crisis.With the visit of John Holmes, the United Nations’ Emergency Relief Coordinator to drought-stricken regions of Niger this week, CARE is urging the world not to make the same mistakes twice at the cost of lives.Many evaluations have documented the shortcomings of the 2005 response: authorities and the aid community were slow to raise the alarm about the food crisis, many aid agencies were slow to respond, and donor funds were grossly insufficient. It took images of starving children before the world took notice.There have been improvements since 2005. Much progress has been made in helping poor families prepare for and cope through food shortages, and several donors have provided continuous funding to help farmers and pastoralists recover from the 2005 emergency. The alarm about this year’s crisis was raised by the authorities much earlier this time around, and many aid agencies, including CARE, have already started implementing activities to help prevent the worst.But there are similarities to 2005 that donors and the aid community must heed in order to avert a disaster in 2010. In both situations, poor rains resulted in poor harvests and a sharp hike in food prices, nearly 30 percent above usual, again means some food is available, but at prices far out of reach of poor families. Also, just as in early 2005, the world’s attention is fixed on a bigger disaster. “In 2005, all the attention and donor funds were focused on the tsunami in Asia. Today, it’s Haiti,” said Amadou Sayo, CARE’s Regional Emergency Coordinator, who led CARE’s emergency response in Niger in 2005. “Many governments have generously dedicated enormous resources to help those affected by the Haiti earthquake, but that leaves little left for disasters like the food crisis in Niger, which are happening out of the public eye.”As in 2005, there is now a very short window for governments and donors to make funding available to avert a crisis. Some 7.8 million people in Niger – more than half the population – are at risk of food insecurity following a disastrous rainy season and poor harvest at the end of 2009. The worst of the crisis is expected to start in June/July, but major humanitarian appeals such as the World Food Programme’s are only half-funded.Already the poorest families are reducing the number of meals eaten in a day and resorting to eating ‘survival food’ like bitter berries. Pastoralists are watching their livestock waste away for lack of pasture land, or are forced to sell them at below-market prices in order to buy food – eliminating their future income and putting them at further risk.“One elderly man in a village in Diffa clearly made a comparison to the 1974-75 crisis, which was a huge famine in the Sahel,” said Stéphane Petitprez, CARE’s Emergency Coordinator in Niger. “Food insecurity levels are definitely at a much bigger scale than 2005. Without a timely, appropriate emergency response from the international community, this could potentially result in a humanitarian disaster.” Working closely with the government, U.N. agencies and aid groups, CARE plans to reach approximately 660,000 people in the particularly hard-hit areas of Diffa, Maradi and Tahoua. Immediate activities include cash-based interventions (cash transfers and cash-for-work) to help poor families meet their food requirements throughout the lean season and to purchase seeds for the planting season in June; emergency food distributions, particularly targeting schoolchildren and the most vulnerable; and helping pastoralists protect their livestock by improving water access points, rehabilitating and protecting pasture land, and ensuring access to animal feed.To make a donation to Niger or found out more information go to http://www.careinternational.org.ukNotes to editor:
CARE has been active in Niger for 37 years and is there and making a difference in between the crises, lobbying for, and securing funding for disaster risk reduction work.CARE’s approach is to equip people with the knowledge, skills and structures that will make them better able to build on the resources they have to improve their own lives and better withstand future shocks.CARE International UK secured £308,451 from the Department for International Development’s West African Humanitarian Respond Fund (WAHRF) for food security interventions in the Diffa region of Niger, which is expected to be increased to £1million.With this specific funding CARE and its local partners (who work in remote pastoral areas still populated largely by nomadic herders) will reach over 7,000 households / families (approx. 60,000 people).This funding is used to help build resilience to drought and for emergency response activities, including feeding in schools, distribution of grain for people and animal feed, cash for work as well as getting people back on their feet and working with them to improve their incomes, their health, their living conditions so they are better able to withstand regular droughts.About CARE:
CARE is one of the world’s largest aid agencies, working in more than 70 countries to fight poverty and helping more than 59 million people every year. Our long-term programmes tackle the deep-seated causes of poverty and we are always among the first to respond when disaster strikes. We remain with communities to help them rebuild their lives long after the cameras have gone.Media contact: For images and interviews with aid workers in Niger please contact: Kathryn Richards +44(0)207 9349347/07793543794,
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