STATEMENT ON HUMANITARIAN CRISIS IN NIGER BY EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME ERTHARIN COUSIN AND UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES ANTONIO GUTERRES
5/7/2012 7:00:02 PM -
NIAMEY, Niger, May 7, 2012/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- Today, we are completing a four-day visit to Niger, which is experiencing a deepening humanitarian crisis. In the Ouallam and Maradi regions, we saw fathers and mothers struggling to feed their families in villages where hunger has already taken hold in advance of the traditional hunger season. The impact of a quick succession of droughts, abnormally high food prices and the failure of crops has now been compounded by an influx of refugees from Mali, with tens of thousands of people seeking refuge in the areas worst-hit by the drought, joining the millions facing hunger.
The hungry poor - whether- small holder farmers or pastoralists - face a situation where savings are exhausted and there has been no opportunity to rebuild livestock herds.
In response, the World Food Programme has scaled up operations, to provide food assistance to almost 4 million people in Niger, while the United Nations High Commission for Refugees is helping some 160,000 refugees who fled conflict from Mali to neighbouring countries. Together we are working in partnership with the Nigerien government as well as the entire humanitarian community to provide the necessary emergency support while simultaneously implementing activities that will build resilience to better withstand the impact of future shocks.
UNHCR is grateful to the Niger Government for having left their border open and for hosting the Malian refugees. UNHCR has been moving the refugees from the volatile border areas to refugee sites or camps further inland, but fears that with the persistent political and security instability in Mali, new influxes of refugees will put an additional strain on neighbouring countries such as Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.
As we enter the lean season across the Sahel region, if we are to meet the food and nutrition security needs of the most vulnerable, whether refugees or the hungry poor, the international community must meet its commitments, both financial as well as political. Now is the time to mobilize resources, including timely financial support as well as coming together in order to find political solutions necessary to avoid the Mali crisis further threatening regional security and evolving into a global threat to security.
Despite early response from donors, the needs remain great, the hunger season has started early and plans to help those at risk, whether local communities or refugees, are still significantly underfunded. With the coming lean season, the onset of the rains creates impassable roads resulting in an inability to reach people in villages and refugee camps. As such, our agencies crucially need funding to preposition food and other relief assistance, including tents for refugees.
The window of opportunity to save lives is narrowing by the day. Today we appeal to the international community on behalf of the most vulnerable people in Niger and Sahelian countries. The time to act is now.