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4232Food Insecurity In Niger, Mauritania

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  • World View
    Jul 31, 2005
      32,000 children in Niger face `mortal threat':

      UNICEF appeals to the world community for an additional US$14.6
      million to save children's lives in Niger



      Niger diary I: Arriving on the ground :

      Mark Snelling is a member of the British Red Cross Society's Emergency
      Response Unit in Niger. He has been keeping a diary for the BBC News


      In the first entry he describes the team's journey to provide
      essential logistical support to the Red Cross relief response in the
      West African country, where up to 2.5 million people are now in urgent
      need of food.

      Sunday 24 July
      It's been an extraordinary few days. I get into work at British Red
      Cross headquarters on Thursday, preoccupied with the second wave of
      attempted bomb attacks in London.

      My mind is not on unfolding emergencies elsewhere in the world. Then,
      quite unexpectedly, I'm asked if I'll go with the Emergency Response
      Unit to Niger.

      The next few days are a frenetic round of briefings, vaccination
      appointments, personnel admin and shopping for supplies. And then we
      are off.

      This is an emergency that we and many others are responding to, right
      here and right now. The wider questions will have to wait

      Q&A: Food crises and aid

      The charter aircraft waiting for us at Bristol airport is an
      impressive old workhorse, an Antonov-12 built in 1968, complete with
      Ukrainian crew.

      They busy themselves with prepping the plane as we get our two
      Landcruisers, packed with communications and administration equipment,
      up the ramp.

      Five hours later, we land at a remote airfield in northern Algeria to
      refuel, something of a change from the chilly drizzle of Bristol.

      As the doors open, the hot air hits us like a jet. It's 49C. The local
      security officials are anxious that we don't get out of the plane, but
      after some negotiation, they allow us to use the toilets.

      What should have been a two-hour stopover turns into five. At this
      temperature, the pilots explain, it is simply too hot to start the

      We get under way only after the local fire brigade douses the engines
      and propellers several times with water.

      At 0400 local time, we finally arrive. Niamey airport is closed, but a
      sleepy customs official processes our passports.

      It feels like we've been travelling for days, but there's only time
      for a couple of hours' sleep before work needs to start.

      Monday 25 July
      We get into our makeshift operations base on Monday morning, a
      conference room in the offices of the Niger Red Cross.

      We meet our local colleagues, together with international delegates
      from the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, who have
      already been here for two weeks doing the initial assessments.

      Locusts and a drought have meant that harvests have failed in Niger

      They explain that a seed distribution is already under way to catch
      the end of the planting season.

      As for the main operation, we have to move, and we have to move fast.

      We know that if we don't prepare well, we will not be doing justice to
      the desperate needs here. But we also know that the clock is ticking.
      It's a fine line to tread.

      Langdon Greenhalgh, the Federation team leader here, puts it well.
      "It's a question of building the ship and sailing it at the same time."

      Our French Red Cross colleagues explain their plan for Zinder and
      Agadez, the districts where they are operating. The priority is to
      establish logistical bases from which they can run supplementary
      feeding centres.

      "Why didn't the help get there sooner?" asks one journalist. There
      is no single easy answer

      Food crisis timeline

      It is agreed that we will adopt the same model for Tahoua and Maradi,
      which will be the focus of the British Red Cross. A plan is taking shape.

      I go back to the airport with Peter Pearce, the British team leader,
      and Eric Rossi, a French Red Cross logistician attached to our
      six-person unit.

      After quite a wait, our papers are processed and we get our vehicles
      and equipment out.

      The next hours are spent getting the base up and running. Satellite
      phones are set up, computers and printers hooked up, local mobiles

      Calls start pouring in from international media. Interviews range from
      the supportive to the slightly hostile.

      "Why didn't the help get there sooner?" asks one journalist. There is
      no single easy answer.

      One could say that government and UN strategies didn't work as well as
      they might have done; international donors were slow to respond
      despite aid agency warnings; it is also the case that it was hard to
      assess that a chronically deficient food situation was turning acute.

      Of one thing I'm certain. It's easy to say that we should 'Make
      Poverty History'. It sounds good.

      But there are huge changes that need to be made on every level -
      political, economic and humanitarian - before that can happen.

      For the time being, though, this is an emergency that we and many
      others are responding to, right here and right now. The wider
      questions will have to wait.

      Tuesday 26 July
      Eric leaves this morning for Tahoua to get the rapid assessment done
      ahead of setting up the supplementary feeding centre there.

      There is good news from the World Food Programme.

      Some 4,000 tonnes of cereal and oils will be arriving next week. So we
      need to be ready to distribute.


      Landlocked country in West Africa
      One of poorest nations in world
      Population of 11.5m
      60% of population live on $1 a day
      50% of population under 15
      82% of population depend on subsistence farming
      Source: UNDP

      The Red Cross in Geneva has also found a European supplier to provide
      enough Unimix - an enriched flour that makes a kind of porridge - to
      distribute in Tahoua and Maradi.

      Over the next six months, that will go to vulnerable children under
      five who need supplementary nutrition.

      Their families will also receive a ration of rice, lentils and oil so
      that they do not end up dividing up what the child receives between

      Neil Brown, another of our logisticians, is heading out to Maradi
      tomorrow morning and we're expecting another logistics co-ordinator
      and a nutritionist to arrive in Niamey today.

      We've moved fast to get this far, and it's satisfying to see things
      fall into place. There's no time to lose.


      Mauritania also at risk of hunger :

      The combination of the locust invasion and drought which has brought a
      crisis to Niger is set to affect the entire Sahel region of West Africa.


      Mauritania also at risk of hunger
      By Pascale Harter
      BBC News, Mauritania

      A child suffering from malnutrition is treated at a MSF centre in
      Tahoua, northern Niger
      Mauritania hopes to avoid the starvation seen in Niger
      The combination of the locust invasion and drought which has brought a
      food crisis to Niger is set to affect the entire Sahel region of West

      Millions of people in Mauritania, Mali and Burkina Faso are facing a
      severe food shortage, the UN has warned.

      The spectre of skeletal children too weak to support the weight of
      their own heads is yet to be seen in Mauritania.

      But aid agencies are hoping that this time, donors will not let it
      come to that before intervening.

      Niger is simply in the advanced stages of a food shortage threatening
      to engulf this entire region.

      Critical time

      World Vision has already announced a Stage 2 emergency in Mauritania.

      That is the critical time before famine.

      The organisation has warned that a million people here are already in
      need of food aid.

      A further 1.5m are at risk in Mali and Burkina Faso, according to the
      United Nations World Food Programme.

      It's a silent tsunami, says World Vision.

      Families are selling off the last of their livestock to buy food and
      descending further into poverty in what is already the poorest region
      of the world.



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