Africare News Release

 

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Boxes and bags of relief food — awaiting distribution — in front of the Africare distribution post in Filingué, Niger.

Food distribution ceremony with the participation of local administrative authorities.

Cooking demonstration in a HEARTH model center, teaching nutritional rehabilitation.

A young child receives a much-needed check-up at an area HEARTH center.

A woman farmer waters her tomato garden, as a part of the village-gardening component of the FER Project.

A cereal bank management committee receives training in financial matters.

Provisioning of millet to cereal bank.

UPDATE 2007: 2005 Niger Drought Emergency Aid Got Lasting Results

WASHINGTON, DC, Spring 2007 — About 35 years after "the great Sahelian drought" of 1968-1974 (which impacted more than 25 million people across West Africa), Africare began preparations to address a sadly familiar situation: again, severe drought had sparked a widespread food crisis in Niger. The year 2005 marked not only the 35th anniversary of Africare’s founding, but also the return of devastating drought to the area where Africare first delivered humanitarian aid. Since the drought of 2005, Africare’s emergency assistance has been ongoing in the prefecture of Filingué, Niger — much as Africare has responded to other droughts, both in the Sahel and elsewhere on the African continent, over the course of its history.

Looking back: In the late 1960s and early 1970s, an unyielding drought in Africa's Sahel region captured the world’s attention. Diminished rainfall and lingering arid conditions depleted food harvests across the region and forced millions of people into makeshift camps — dependent on outside food aid. Thousands died and millions of others were affected as the drought continued for six years.

Africare’s first work, beginning in 1970, was in response to that drought. And the first country where Africare delivered aid was the Republic of Niger: a land-locked country between Burkina Faso (then, Upper Volta) and Mali to the west, Chad to the east, and Algeria and Libya to the north. Although large in total land area, only 11 percent of Niger's land proved exploitable — of which only 3 percent could support agricultural production. With the advent of the drought in 1968, food harvests were significantly threatened.

Knowing of the suffering, Africare in 1970 began relief efforts through food assistance and health care activities in Niger. Relief efforts continued for the next five years; and as conditions improved, Africare expanded its assistance from drought relief to long-term rural development.

But in 2005, drought once again called upon Africare to provide relief in Niger. This food crisis did not have the same components as the 1968-1974 crisis, but new obstacles existed: a locust invasion, flooding and, more generally, a farming system that had moved away from food crops for local people and toward export-oriented farming of non-food (or, non-nutritious) items.

Taking action in 2005: Africare immediately launched an emergency response project, funded in part by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and individual/group private donors. More than $126,000 was raised through private contributions to Africare’s Niger Emergency Food Relief Fund. These funds aided the development of the Filingué Emergency Relief (FER) Project. The FER Project launched in September 2005 to reduce localized food insecurity in the prefecture of Filingué. Through the local purchase and distribution of nutritious foods, training in improved farming methods and nutritional behavior, Africare has been able to assist more than 15,000 men, women and children affected by the 2005 Niger drought.

The FER Project had three major objectives:

1. Objective 1: Increase access to food for highly insecure households in the region through direct food distribution.
2. Objective 2: Reduce the incidence of malnutrition among children under the age of five years.
3. Objective 3: Protect rural livelihoods in this crisis situation and enhance resilience to withstand future crises.

Objective 1: The immediate need for food and water directed Africare’s attention to the distribution of more than 90 metric tons of rice, maize, niébé beans and flour to villages in Filingué. Beneficiaries were selected based on where the need was greatest (i.e., villages where food deficits were greater than 60 percent). Africare partnered with local and national NGOs to effectively deliver the emergency food aid to 11 different villages in Filingué. More than 2,000 households benefited from the aid — an estimated reach of 10,635 people.

The direct and indirect benefits of the aid were considerable. According to the FER Project’s final evaluation, the food that was distributed made it possible for families to "push back famine" by a few days: a very significant margin in such situations. More than 50 percent of the beneficiaries said the aid covered the direct food needs of large families for seven to 10 days and of small families (households of a couple and two children) for nearly 20 days. The extra days of food security allowed the heads of rural households to cultivate their farms or to seek additional aid or jobs in town.

Objective 2: According to the 2006 Human Development Index, Niger ranked last when compared to 175 countries on measures of life expectancy, literacy, education and overall standard of living. Niger also ranked in the top five among countries with high mortality rates for children under five: statistics that only worsen during periods of famine and drought (hence, the need to pair health assistance with food aid). Africare’s FER Project also gave special attention to the nutritional rehabilitation and care of malnourished children and pregnant women.

Four "HEARTH" centers were established for grassroots-driven nutritional rehabilitation. Through these centers, designated "model mothers" help nurses in awareness-raising, weighing/measuring of children, cooking demonstrations, promotion of maternal/child health, cleanliness/hygiene training and awareness of STDs, including HIV/AIDS. The centers stressed the production and consumption of foods rich in Vitamin A and micronutrients, in addition to treating over 2,500 moderately malnourished children.

Objective 3: Preventive measures — for example, strong agricultural production systems, water resources other than rainfall itself and functioning environmental-conservation policies — are critical to minimizing the impact of a future drought. Some of the same problems that created the famine of the early 1970s also created the food crisis of 2005, and other food crises in between. Regions that had long-term annual agricultural programs in place were least impacted by the 2005 drought. As such, the FER Project incorporated long-term agricultural production strategies and tactics.

Four vegetable-growing sites were backstopped by the FER Project in Gao Sabon Gari, Guébé, Toudou and Filingué. About four hectares (10 acres) of land were cultivated with an assortment of crops, including tomatoes, green peppers, lettuce, Irish potatoes and cabbage. The gardens supported over 200 vegetable producers — mostly women — and provided the basis for committees to train in the areas of financial management and maintenance.

Cereal banks, or food reserves, were also emphasized as an important preventive measure. The FER Project helped construct, stock and establish maintenance procedures for several cereal banks in Filingué. At this writing in 2007, all have rebuilt their cereal stocks, which vary between 10 and 12 metric tons of cereal in the warehouses.

Thanks in 2007: During its 18 months of operation, the Filingué Emergency Relief Project reached more than 15,000 people affected by the 2005 Niger drought — thanks to both USAID and the private individuals and groups who cared about the people of Niger and gave wisely, through Africare's Niger Emergency Food Relief Fund, to a project that has had lasting impact.

 

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