Niger is currently being affected by the worst food security crisis of this decade, with 4.4 million people in need of immediate humanitarian assistance. This crisis is in the context of continued deteriorating security in the Sahel region, which further aggravates the socio-economic vulnerabilities of the population. In line with the IFRC’s Pan-African Zero Hunger Initiative, the IFRC is launching this Food Insecurity Crisis Emergency Appeal to support the Red Cross Society of Niger (RCSN) to mobilise resources to scale-up its humanitarian assistance in the country’s affected regions.
In Niger, over four million households are facing the devastating effects of food insecurity caused by consecutive failed rainy seasons and decades of increasing desertification of the Sahel. Men, women and children have no adequate access to food, and are exposed to several threats harming their well-being. These threats are natural hazards (climate, droughts, wildfires), epidemics (measles, malaria, meningitis and cholera) and insecurity, leading to population movements and competition over resources.
The severe food insecurity situation is confirmed by the Cadre Harmonisé findings, which reported that between 2.5 and 3.3 million people are currently food insecure countrywide (Phase 3 to 5 as per the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification – IPC), and that between 3.6 and 4.4 million people will be food insecure in June – August 2022 period due to a delayed 2022 rainy season and irregular distribution of rainfall, long dry spells, and high risks of flooding that can lead to losses in crops, material goods, and animal and human lives in exposed localities.
The pastoral season in Niger is taking place early in the year as a result of difficulties in livestock feeding, watering conditions and fodder deficits. Herd movements are also disrupted due to the security situation. Consequently, livestock is concentrated in secure areas which leads to risks of conflict between farmers and the emergence of animal diseases.
There was a decline of 39% in cereal production in the 2021-2022 cropping seasons, which is currently recording a gross deficit of two million tons across all regions of Niger. Agricultural markets are being disrupted due to the failed agricultural season, closure of borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic and insecurity. This has inevitably led to an increase in inflation and a rise in prices of main food staples and livestock, in some cases, by more than 40% compared to the last five-year average for food staples. The impact of the ongoing Ukraine crisis can lead to further price increases for agricultural products, especially wheat, rice and fertilisers.
The population of Niger has been facing challenges in nutrition due to the lack of uptake of essential nutrients and inadequate nutritional practices. According to the Niger government, a total of 2.3 million people need curative or preventive nutritional support while there are 457,200 children under the age of five suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM). Due to insecurity in Niger, many health centres in rural areas have been closed, services are disrupted, or they face a lack of access to medicines. This situation is set to deteriorate during the lean season. Only 56% of the population has access to a source of drinking water, 13% has access to basic sanitation services, and open defecation is practiced by more than 71%. These sanitary conditions are conducive to the development of diseases which will have high negative impacts on the nutritional situation of the population.
Without decisive action, there will be a steady increase in food insecurity, malnutrition levels, and related opportunistic diseases, and increased exposure to epidemics. The number of people living in food insecurity will increase as more farmers lose their crops and livestock due to agricultural practices insufficiently adapted to the consequences of climate change. Cases of diseases and epidemics like malaria, measles and meningitis will increase as people experiencing food insecurity and malnutrition have a weakened immune system, are more vulnerable to infections and suffer from severe symptoms leading to possible deaths.