Three years ago, a bad drought had millions in Niger and other countries in the Sahel region of West Africa in desperate straits. In spite of decent rainfall in 2012, many Nigeriens live so close to the edge that last year’s combination of floods and a short rainy season has plunged millions into crisis while they have to wait until this year’s harvest.
Catholic Relief Services is responding with food and seed distributions, cash for work projects, farming training and livestock distributions.
“We are now approaching the ‘lean season’ which are the final months before crops are harvested,” says Bill Rastetter, CRS country representative in Niger. “Last year was a good year for rain and crops, so many families had enough food to last until the next harvest. This year, though, was unfortunately more typical, with significant pockets where the harvest was not good, and food supplies for many will be depleted before the next harvest.”
Floods hit several areas of the country and washed away crops, homes and property. Then, those rains stopped early, leaving crops that survived the floods dried out before they could mature. As over 90 percent of the population relies on traditional crop farming, experts predict that about 11 million people in Niger will face serious food insecurity this year.
Even in a year of good rains, up to a quarter of Niger’s 17 million people need humanitarian assistance.
“For some, there is never a good year,” Rastetter says. “CRS is always looking to help the most vulnerable families, identified by their own communities. Many are simply too poor to have the means to grow a crop. The challenge is to meet their short term needs, as well as to help them gain the knowledge and resources they need to become more self-sufficient.”
CRS has been supporting the most vulnerable families in Niger for years, and by stepping up its response now, hopes to avoid an even bigger disaster.
“These people are already hungry. We can’t wait until they’re really hungry,” Rastetter explains, saying more funding is necessary to help all who need it. “An earlier response means less work later to rectify things when the situation is worse. This has been done successfully in the past, and we can do it again. It is not futile, because at the same time progress is being made in making people less vulnerable to these crises.
We are focused on improving people’s lives, one person, one family, one village at a time,” he says.
Read more about CRS’ work in Niger.