July 21 2005
Famine: Emergency Relief in Niger and Mali
21/07/2005 - Up to a third of Niger's population suffers from food scarcity, every day children die from under nourishment. SOS Children's Villages will start an emergency relief programme for children in danger of dying from acute starvation in the region of Tahoua; the organisation also distributed foodstuffs and relief supplies in Mali.
Niger (two thirds of the country's surface is desert) has been struck by severe famine as last year's crop was destroyed by lack of rain and a devastating plague of locusts. The looming threat of food scarcity crisis had been predicted months ago; however, desperately-needed relief is only coming in slowly. It is feared that the situation will aggravate in that direction in the months to come and that thousands of children in the Sahel zone may not survive.
Up to now, SOS Children's Villages had been active in the capital of Niamey where the organisation has been running an SOS Children's Village, a kindergarten and a school since 1993. There is a secure supply situation around Niamey; however, only 19 out of 106 country districts are not considered to face a critical food supply situation. One of the crisis regions is around Tahoua, a town about 550 km north-east of Niamey, where SOS Children's Villages is currently involved in preparation work for building a second SOS Children's Village.
SOS Children's Villages will start emergency relief activities in the village of Muntchéré near Tahoua in the weeks to come. A food programme to benefit about 9,000 children, some of them orphans, is currently being organised. Talks are being held with local authorities on degree, kind and duration of relief measures.
Tahoua is a town with about 140,000 inhabitants. Like the entire country of Niger, this town also struggles with grave economic and social problems aggravated by extreme climatic conditions. Despite enhanced development efforts made, the country still rates second-to-last in the country statistics. Nearly half of the population is aged below 15 years, the illiteracy rate amounts to an astronomical percentage of 82.4, average life expectancy is 42 years; besides, HIV/AIDS claims more and more victims particularly among the middle generation.
As a result, the overall situation of children is dismal, if not hopeless, and there is a steady increase in the number of orphans due to AIDS. More than hundred orphans will find a new home in the new SOS Children's Village, construction of which will start in September. Many NGOs are active in the region, but none of them takes care of these children who are not provided for.
Some of the regions of neighbouring Mali also face a problematic food supply situation as a result of poor crop yields in the 2003/2004 season and locust invasions. Based in the SOS Children's Village in Socoura near Mopti, SOS employees have distributed basic foodstuffs and other relief goods (90 tons of millet, 3 tons of milk, 400 cartons of biscuits, 25 tons of fodder and 17 tons of seeds) to 570 families with 2,200 children in 16 villages to help them get through the coming months.
Still, SOS Children's Villages does not only provide temporary relief in Socoura but has also been establishing a number of social programmes since June this year for strengthening families and helping them to secure their future. These programmes include counselling, literacy courses for adults and training programmes for women and youth, learning support, health prevention services, tailor-made support for extremely poor families, distribution of donkey carts, working animals etc.