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Aug-26-2010 20:37printcomments

West Africa Food Crisis Forces UN to Make Agonizing Decision

People on the ground say it is an appalling situation.

A child awaits the food that will stop him sliding into malnutrition.  (Copyright: Francesco Manetti)
UN Photo: A child awaits the food that will stop him sliding into malnutrition. (Copyright: Francesco Manetti)

(NIGER DELTA / PORTLAND) - World Food Program (WFP) will need to prioritize children under the age of two; 60% of people in dire need of aid may not receive adequate help. “We have known about this crisis for months and yet more than a million people in Niger will continue to starve over the coming weeks and perhaps months due to lack of funds,” said Raphael Sindaye, Oxfam Deputy Regional Director in West Africa.

WFP in Niger, the country worst-hit by the West Africa food crisis, has been forced to make an agonizing decision. They must abandon plans to provide emergency food to families with children over the age of two because of an enormous funding shortfall.

This news comes at the peak of the food crisis when there is still almost two months to go before the next harvest. Only families with children under the age of two will receive food aid in the coming weeks. This plan will not adequately cover even these families as they will only receive 50 kilograms of cereal, half the amount an average family of seven needs each month. The remaining 60 percent of the affected population will be left to depend on a woefully under-resourced government and other aid organizations.

Oxfam made the announcement last week “We have repeatedly called for donors to increase their funding to WFP and other aid agencies – but still not enough is being done.” Raphael Sindaye, added “No humanitarian agency should be forced into such an impossible position, especially one backed by the entire international community. WFP is being forced to make the heartbreaking decision to direct its limited resources only to families with children under two because it lacks the cash it needs to do the job. Every day is a battle to find food.”

Across the Sahel belt of West Africa drought and erratic rains have caused meager harvests and severe water shortages, forcing Niger, Mali and Chad to depend largely on international aid. More than 10 million people are affected by the crisis, seven million of those in Niger where hundreds of thousands of children face starvation.

50-year old Maria Ali, a mother of 10 in a village near Zinder, Niger told Oxfam, “We have no crops and no land of our own, and now we are very hungry. It's the hardest year I can remember. No one here has received any help. There is nothing we can do, we just pray that God will help us. We urge anyone, the government, the international organizations, to come to our aid. Every day is a battle to find food for my children.”

Fatima Husseini, 50, and mother of nine said, “We have not received any help here, though I know other places have received something. But we are not jealous because we know that everybody needs aid. I urge anybody to come to help us.”

WFP must begin prioritizing, only 700,000 children under the age of two and their families out of the 8 million that are in desperate need will be assisted. The numbers continue to rise and the need becoming ever more present as 17 percent of children under five in Niger are classified as acutely malnourished; above the 15 percent threshold which is considered a global emergency. The consolidated appeal for the West Africa region as a whole faces a shortfall of $483 million; $96 million of that needed for Niger.

"This is an appalling situation” said Raphael Sindaye. Missing funds are urgently needed to buy essential trucks, open more storage space and ensure food actually reaches communities. The WFP has 42,000 tons of food available, but needs approximately double this to reach the almost eight million people affected in Niger.

*Sources: Oxfam International

Alysha Atma spends many hours working on projects that support and benefit the beleaguered people of African nations who spend way too much time off the western media's radar. This writer explains that she is a culmination of all her experiences, most importantly knowledge she says, and all that she still needs to learn; lessons of love, laughter and the extraordinary giving of both young and old. She says she has the enormous fortune of learning from the best; every person around her, and the amazing strength and fortitude of those she has never met but will always strive to listen to. "I continue to work and write because I believe in the power of community and the power of one, both contradictory to each other and yet can move together in a very powerful way. I feel a responsibility to use my place, freedoms and connections here in the US to stand up and yell for those who need my voice and actions. I have seen such strength in my fellow humans that I cannot even begin to comprehend, they have traveled distances, have gone without food, water, shelter and safety for days and weeks at a time. I have a responsibility as a fellow human to put our common humanity before anything else. Everyone deserves to look towards tomorrow, to dream of a safe future and to have a peaceful present." You can write to Alysha Atma at:

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