Niger, Communications and UNICEF

Zinder: blanket feeding
Zinder: blanket feeding for children under two in selected districts

 

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.

* BBC News 2010 report

** UNICEF Humanitarian Action for Children 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travels with the UN – Niger (2010)

 

Maradi and Zinder, Niger, June 2010 049 - Copy - Copy
Tuareg pastoralists 

There was a serious food crisis unfolding in Niger and other parts of the Sahel at the time of my appointment to the UNICEF office in Niamey. I was charged with leading a media mission into Maradi and Zinder, two hard hit areas, with Terry Ally, a colleague from the UNICEF UK national committee, as well as a top photographer from Getty Images.

 

The photographer, Marco di Lauro, had already documented many, many scenes from war zones such as Afghanistan, We would be accompanied by a fourteen men convoy, as al-Qaeda was also a threat in the area at the time. I would be the only woman on the team.

Marco is pictured with two of the security men. He would eventually go on to win first prize in his category at the prestigious World Press Awards. But more importantly, we contributed to raising the profile of a region in serious distress.

Unfortunately, food crisis and famines are recurring problems in a country and region that suffers from recurring droughts. According to the United Nations and the European Commission’s humanitarian arm, ECHO, 20 million people were food insecure in the Sahel during 2014, with 1 in 8 inhabitants suffering from food insecurity. Children in the Sahel are among the world’s most malnourished. Affected countries include those in conflict, such as Mali and the Central African Republic.

Communities have learned to be resourceful and, together with their governments and international/local organisations, continue to look at ways to adapt to and mitigate historical environmental challenges and the hazards of climate change.

Pastoralists, including the two Tuareg men pictured here, were struggling with the upkeep of their families. The devastation of their livelihoods was immediately apparent: cattle lay dead and dying under the searing heat, whilst food prices continued to rise and rise.

Click here for an ECHO factsheet about the Sahel crisis

Go here for Marco’s work