Back in 2010 when I was working there as a communications specialist for UNICEF, Niger was facing a humanitarian crisis – a severe food crisis bordering on famine. Drought and high food prices had hugely distressed Nigeriens, especially outside the capital, Niamey: villagers such as the pastoralist pictured below (name withheld) and the two Tuareg men were seeing their livestock dying off because of the lack of food. ‘This year there was so little rain during the growing season that not only did the fields of millet not bloom, but the secondary greens used for animal fodder also failed.’*
By 10 October 2010, 263,273 children had been treated for severe acute malnutrition at nutrition rehabilitation centres. **
The World Food Programme told the BBC that 17 per cent of children (one in five) were acutely malnourished. This was well above WFP’s normal 15 per cent threshold for declaring an emergency.
Droughts followed by heavy rains that lead to floods in the Sahel region are, in fact, cyclical problems. Today, environmental challenges are exacerbated by population displacements caused by neighbouring conflicts in Mali, Nigeria and Libya.
And yet, life has to go on for the average Nigerien, even in the midst of a crisis. This includes being gainfully employed and supporting the country economically and socially, while solid sustainable solutions are sought for its current problems and longer term growth.
That search continues.
** UNICEF Humanitarian Action for Children 2011