4232Food Insecurity In Niger, Mauritania
- Jul 31, 200532,000 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
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
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
"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
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.
NIGER IN FACTS AND FIGURES
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
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.
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.
WORLD VIEW NEWS SERVICE
To subscribe to this group, send an email to:
NEWS ARCHIVE IS OPEN TO PUBLIC VIEW