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Niger - Hungersnød tvinger prisen på fødevarer helt i top!

NIGER: Price of food tips people over the edge

IRINnews.org, 5. august 2005

Prisen på fødevarer er nærmest kommet ud af kontrol, og de sædvanlige mønstre, hvorefter nomaderne selv i trængselstider har kunnet få omtrent den samme fødevaremængde for et stykke kvæg er nu ændret, så priserne på fødevarer nu har nået kritiske højder.

Malnourished child in the MSF supplementary feeding centre in Keita, Tahoua region - ©  IRIN
DAKAR, 5 Aug 2005 (IRIN) - After the news cameras are switched off and the world's journalists leave Niger, what is almost certain is that next season the poor will again suffer the pain of hunger and the weakest children will die.

"In any given year, in any given village, you will find malnourished children in Niger," said Salif Sow, regional representative of the US-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET).

The humanitarian crisis affecting parts of the arid Sahelian country this season is as much an issue of the affordability of food as its local availability, say aid workers.

But the problem is not a lack of food nationally. Total grain production last year - though dipping below a five year average - was 22 percent more than the 2000/2001 season, a year in which "there was no major food security crisis", noted a FEWS NET report.

What has changed this year is that in some parts of a southern belt sweeping from the border with Burkina Faso to Chad, food prices are critically high, while the value of livestock has crashed.

A 100 kg bag of millet, the staple grain, sold for around CFA 8,000 to 12,000 (US $16 to $24) last year but now costs more than CFA 22,000 ($44).

An estimated 3.6 million out of a population of 12 million are affected by food insecurity, with 2.5 million identified as extremely vulnerable and requiring food assistance.

Aid workers are careful not to use the term famine to describe what is underway in Niger, the world's second poorest country.

"I'm definitely not using the expression 'starvation' and I'm definitely not saying 'famine' as these imply things we don't have evidence for. This is a food insecurity and nutritional insecurity crisis," said Victor Aguayo, regional nutrition adviser for the UN Children's Fund.

Grinding poverty leaves little cushion for when a hard life gets even harder.

Across Niger agro-pastoral systems have remained unchanged for hundreds of years, despite accelerating desertification and climate change. A lack of health services, school opportunities for children, and the traditional status of women, further punish the poor.

A 1998 UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) profile for Niger, reviewing 10 years of data, concluded: "The rates of malnutrition among children are high throughout the country: over 32 percent are stunted - half of them severely stunted - over 15 percent are wasted, and over 36 percent are underweight."

"Every year the levels of malnutrition in Niger pass over the emergency threshold," World Food Programme (WFP) information officer, Marcus Prior, told IRIN. "In many senses I don't think [the current nutrition crisis] is very new."

FAO noted in its 1998 report that the region most affected by malnutrition was Maradi. This year, Maradi is at the centre of the nutrition crisis again, along with zones in five other southern regions, says WFP.

A survey by the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in April found acute malnutrition rates in some departments in Maradi hitting over 19 percent.

But what is unclear is how much of that suffering can be attributed to the underlying vulnerability, and what is a direct result of the current crisis.

"Just because it's a problem every year does not mean this is excusable," said Johanne Sekkenes, head of MSF's mission in Niger. "In no way can this situation be excusable."

In a normal season in the Sahel, food prices begin to fall from September through to December, before rising again. Last year, according to Sow, food prices did not fall, and from January rocketed to a "level we have not seen before".

Part of the reason was high regional food prices and an element of speculation, noted Sow. In anticipation that last year's locust infestation would lead to shortages, traders held onto food stocks rather than releasing them onto the market.

The locust swarms, while affecting some crops, decimated pasture. Then came an early end to last year's rains, and pastoralists found what remained of their fodder shrivelling in the scorching heat, and their animals weakening and dying.

Livestock are traditionally exchanged for food, but the terms of trade have turned against pastoralists. "In the bad areas it now takes two to three animals to buy the same quantity of food that previously cost just one," said Sow.

In this current hunger season in the run up to the next harvest in October, farmers are struggling - and in their tens of thousands failing - to find the money to pay for food on the markets.

Before significant amounts of aid started flowing there was an agonising debate over whether free food distribution would undermine the working of the free market and create dependency.

In April the government, heavily dependent on donor funding, raised taxes on a range of consumer goods, including milk and flour, as a condition for budgetary aid from the International Monetary Fund. Some of those increases were rescinded after protest marches.

"The biggest challenge for Niger and the international community, to ensure that this crisis doesn’t happen again, is to help the country out of what is really pulverising poverty," said WFP's Prior.

© IRIN - This article appeared originally on IRIN News.org and is published by engelund.dk according a general agreement. To view the original article, please click here.
IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks) is a project of UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
[This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.]


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Opdateret d. 3.10.2005