Tuesday, June 01, 2010

10 million face hunger in Niger

The people in Niger gave the last famine they experienced in 2005 it's own name. They haven't named the current one yet, but if crops fail again this year it could be worse than the last. Millions face hunger in this arid area of Africa that stretches through Niger and Chad. 10 million people will need food assistance because the next harvest will not arrive until September.

From this Associated Press article that we found at Google News, writer Jon Gambrell gives us this picture of the famine.

"People have lost crops, livestock, and the ability to cope on their own, and the levels of malnutrition among women and children have already risen to very high levels," said Thomas Yanga, WFP Regional Director for West Africa.

The U.N.'s humanitarian chief, John Holmes, said at the end of a four-day visit to neighboring Chad that many Chadians have gone as far as Libya to search for food.

"The level of malnutrition is already beyond the danger point," Holmes said Thursday. "If we do not act now or as quickly as possible, there is a chance the food crisis will become a disaster."

In Niger, some say the growing food crisis could be worse than the one that struck the country in 2005, when aid organizations treated tens of thousands of children for malnutrition.

"We have lost so much we cannot count," said one 45-year-old tribesman with a family of 20 to feed. He and others on Gadabeji Reserve drive starving donkeys through the burnt orange haze of a sandstorm to gather what little water they can on the desiccated plain and struggle to draw water from private wells.

Famine is nothing new to Niger, a former French colony nearly twice the size of Texas. The Sahel cuts through the middle of the country, serving as the dividing line between the sands of the Sahara and the lush farmlands of neighboring Nigeria to the south. Severe droughts have punctuated the region's history for centuries.

Yet outside of uranium mining, agriculture serves as the sole economic engine for a country where just more than a quarter of the population knows how to read. Generation after generation follows worn seasonal tracks, their belongings often fitted onto a single donkey-driven pallet.

Typically, the herders move south at the onset of December, searching for grazing lands. But this year they found only dried lakes and diminishing wells, said Hasane Baka, a regional administrator for AREN, a Nigerien development group for cattlemen.

"People were moving in all directions," Baka said.

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