The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today renewed its appeal for $4 million for emergency agricultural aid to tackle the food crisis in Niger, where 3.5 million people in the world's second poorest country are suffering the effects of drought and the worst invasion of crop-devouring locusts in 15 years.
The appeal for the funds, urgently needed for veterinary services and to feed livestock which play a key role in the livelihoods and food security of many of the most vulnerable households, follows an earlier request in May, for which FAO has so far only received $650,000 from Sweden for cereal and pulse seeds planting.
"Livestock are crucial to agro-pastoralist families in Niger, for income as well as food," the Chief of FAO's Emergency Operations Service, Fernanda Guerrieri, said. "The sale of livestock is often a measure of last resort, after families have already consumed all of their cereal stocks and require cash to buy food for the lean period before the next harvest.
"A loss of livestock or decrease in their market value can have a devastating impact on these families' food security," she added.
Livestock aid is needed for more than 10,000 families who have lost their animals. Funds are also required to provide seeds for the next planting season in October to help some 95,000 vulnerable households get back on their feet. Without this assistance, the crisis could worsen and more food aid would be needed.
UN agencies are already rushing in food and other aid to the country, where 2.5 million people, including 800,000 children are most immediately threatened. The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has received some 1.7 tons of essential drugs and other life-saving supplies from the French Government.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is this week starting food distributions through its non-governmental partners to areas most affected by the crisis such as Maradi and Zinder.
For its part, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) said that 3.5 million people, more than a third of the population, are experiencing a "dramatic crisis" as a result of the food shortage.
"People who are malnourished won't necessarily die from starvation, but because their immune systems are weak, they are at much greater risk of suffering from communicable diseases," it warned in its latest update on the crisis today.
"The incidence of many communicable diseases will increase in the next few weeks as a result of the onset of the rains and - where people have moved in search of food - overcrowding, shortage of water and poor hygiene," it added, citing malaria, diarrhoea, cholera, hepatitis and measles among the specific risks.