Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world and has very few natural resources. Most of the thirteen million inhabitants live in rural areas and depend heavily on agriculture, even though two thirds of the country is arid and gets very little rain. Almost half the population is under the age of 15.
According to a national assessment in January, already more than 7 million people - half the country's population - faced moderate to severe food shortages as erratic rains severely affected crop production. The new government has given the problem top priority but the political unrest that preceded the military coup in February prevented adequate preparations for the looming crisis.
We have had a careful and detailed look at the developing situation, and decided to launch an emergency programme in the region most affected by the crisis, that of Tahoua, where some 870,000 people are facing moderate to severe famine. The programme will run from March 2010 to September 2010 and will benefit a target group of 10,000 of those in most need, prioritising the following groups:
* families raising children who have been orphaned due to HIV/AIDS or other causes
* families in which the head of the family is a woman
* families raising children who are physically or mentally handicapped
Our agreed goals for this programme are the distribution of food supplies to affected families, the medical treatment of conditions caused by malnourishment, the implementation of a system of food banks that encourages self-sufficiency in times of hardship and prevents the explosion of food prices in times of shortages, and the fight against soil degradation in the region of Tahoua.
Direct beneficiaries of this programme are children at risk of being abandoned by their families due to the famine, whereas indirect beneficiaries, i.e. children and adults affected by the famine will have access to medical treatment from local persons to be trained by SOS staff, food sold by the food banks and other support via the direct beneficiaries as intermediate agents.