Food needs grow as conflict continues

An on-going desert conflict continues to ground agricultural activities in the mountainous desert, where more than 10,000 people have been displaced by sporadic fighting and landmine explosions.

Surrounded by dying gardens, residents in the Air Mountains must sometimes travel more than 100 kilometres to market towns to buy food, but when they do, many face mine explosions, military patrols and fighting.

Since rebels re-launched a decades-old desert conflict in February 2007, demanding more community investment and mining revenue from resource-rich pockets of the desert, food has become a rare commodity in the mountains.

Conflict rocks food security

IRIN spoke to a former leader from Iferouane displaced by fighting last August, who continues living in the Air Mountains. He says he does not want to reveal his name because he fears backlash from the military or rebels.

“There used to be at least 300 gardens, primarily in Iferouane, Tin Teloost and Ebourkoum. Since the conflict began, it is almost impossible to get gasoline to keep the gardens’ motor pumps operating. There are only a few working gardens left in Tin Teloost. This is our second year of not producing a harvest in the mountains.”

The mayor of Agadez, Abdoulaye Hama, said the military has rationed petroleum sales since the conflict broke out to prevent fuel from falling into the hands of rebels or bandits. He told IRIN, as a result, onions making it out of the mountains are rare.

The sale of onions, one of the major exports from this region, has plummeted.

A 50kg bag of onions used to cost up to US $29. Now it sells for about US$3. “Not enough to even cover the farmers’ costs,” laments Hama.

The displaced Iferouane resident says even though it is hard for him to find food where he is, he feels safer in the mountains than in the city. “Nomads share. We will make food last. It is not easy, but I prefer this to being in the city.”

About 2,000 people displaced by the fighting have come to the desert hub towns of Agadez and Arlit, according to the Committee to Help Iferouane, known by its French acronym, CAPI.

Red Zones

Sporadic rebel attacks, mine explosions, and a spike in banditry have sealed off the Air Mountains from non-military access.


Photo: Phuong Tran/ IRIN
Nigerien desert rebels start re-launching sporadic attacks against government in February 2007

Any international humanitarian assistance, or deliveries of government food assistance from the national food bank, must go through the regional Agadez government, which then sends the military-escorted delivery to the mountains through a network of elected mayors, tribal chiefs and religious leaders.

One year after the conflict surged, the UN-backed World Food Programme (WFP) sent this past March more than 550 tons of food to the northern communes.

The second in command in the Agadez governor’s office, Laouali Damazoumi, says despite the insecurity, shipments can make it into the mountains.

“If needed, for red zones, or high-risk zones, we will work with someone from the local population who knows the rebels and mine situation well, and who will navigate the delivery safely.”

The governor’s coordinator of humanitarian deliveries, Harouna Oumanou Bayero, says rebels have not attempted to block any food deliveries. “This foo is going to help their population, their fa ilies. There may be some bandits who try to take advantage of the conflict to carry out petty crime near the cities, but they do not dare to attack in the bush, knowing that they will then have to face the rebels.”

This past July, the governor’s office said bandits stole a truck transporting government food stock headed to the mountains on the paved road 70 km from Agadez.

WFP’s office in Niamey says it expects to send out an additional 922 tons of food stuff, intended for 53,000 people. The delivery is expected to include daily rations of 500 grams of rice, 50 grams of beans and 25 grams of cooking oil per person, enough to last one month.

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