In-depth: Food and nutrition crisis in Niger and the Western Sahel
NIGER: Chasing after pastoralists with truckloads of aid
Authorities estimate that more than one-third of cattle in Diffa region could be dead
DIFFA, 4 August 2010 (IRIN) - Parts of sparsely populated and arid eastern Niger, north of the city of Diffa, are strewn with putrid dead cows: Pastoralists travelled great distances to find food and water for their animals but in the end had to watch their most prized assets die.
Two years of erratic rain have led to severe shortages of fodder, cereals and water. In 2009, only a third of the required amount of hay grew, meaning there was insufficient fodder, according to a national household survey of food security by Niger’s Early Warning System.
In Diffa region, more than a third of cattle might be dead by now, said the director of pastoral development at the Ministry of Livestock and Animal Husbandry, Haido Abdul Malik. This is especially dramatic in a region where, according to the authorities, 90 percent of the population relies on livestock for survival.
Pastoralists who have lived through recurrent droughts say they have never seen such a bad situation, not even during the prolonged drought of 1968-1974
which killed a third of all livestock.
“This is worse than anything we have known. The whole of Niger is hungry,” said stockbreeder Amadou Aouta. Half the country’s population is affected by food insecurity, according to the UN.
“I had enough cows, goats and sheep to look after my family. Now, I have nothing and I will have to rely on my two children,” said a 70-year-old man who lost all his cattle. He hopes his children can find some unskilled work.
For the first time since the beginning of the crisis, Aouta and 63 other nomadic families in Yoberou are receiving food aid. A group of women waiting for their ration of 100kg of cereals from international NGO CARE said the worst thing now was hunger. “We have nothing left to sell to buy cereals,” said one.
Some 60 tons of food will be distributed to nomadic pastoralists who have hardly received any support until now.
The operation is unusual: The authorities, CARE and Niger’s Association for the Revival of Breeding (AREN) have been driving through remote areas with truckloads of food in search of vulnerable families. “We are heading to places where there are no villages. We are mostly targeting people who are on the move,” said Amadou Adamou, in charge of the CARE caravan
The operation was launched after aid organizations and the authorities visited the region in July and returned saying it was probably too late to save the cattle, but there was still time to save people.
They had hoped to bring along animal fodder, a medical team and money to buy weakened cattle at higher than the current market price, “but not all partners were willing to quickly change their methods,” said the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Diffa, Sylvain Musafiri.
Assisting nomadic communities is a challenge. “They are far from urban centres, it is expensive to bring aid to remote areas, and it is difficult to reach people who keep moving,” said CARE regional coordinator Ali Salé. “This is a population that is not accounted for in local censuses. We are used to organizing distributions in villages and not in temporary settlements.”
Constant movement also makes it difficult for malnourished nomadic children to get regular treatment over several weeks. “They go when they need to find some grazing land. They usually leave before the end of the treatment, once their condition has improved,” said Abdulaziz Kimba Garba from Bilabrim health centre, near the Chadian border.
Stockbreeders’ children have traditionally been less affected by malnutrition, as they have access to milk, according to Save the Children UK’s household economic surveys
. This may not be true this year. “Dying cattle will not produce milk. When there is no milk, nomadic children are left with little to eat,” said AREN’s regional coordinator, Hassan Ardo Ido.
Bilibrim’s small health centre has received several malnourished nomadic children since April. With more than 22 percent of its children under five acutely malnourished, Diffa has the highest rate of malnutrition in the country, according to a government survey in July
More should have been done earlier, but “people react only when they start seeing dead cattle,” said OCHA’s Musafiri.
In April, AREN suggested that in order to limit losses, animal fodder should be placed along corridors used by the pastoralists, “but little was done,” said AREN’s Hassan Ardo Ido.
The crisis was anticipated as early as the end of 2009, but the political situation
made it difficult to call for help, said the Livestock Ministry’s Abdul Malik. “Even after the coup [of February 2010], donors had to assess where the new authorities were heading and the authorities had to officially call for help. We had to wait until April or May for support to come. It was already [too] late.”
“This year showed us that we can lose everything,” said the chief of Nguelbeyli (2,000 inhabitants), Lamido Moumouni Kabori.
He said weakened animals could recover in a month, but families who have lost most of their cattle have little to fall back on, as normal reproduction will not grow back the herds. “People are now wondering what the future will hold. We cannot rely on stockbreeding any more.”