August 21, 2010

Devastating Floods Sweep Niger After Months of Drought

Excerpted from: http://breakingnews.ie/world

Drought-stricken Niger has been struck by devastating flooding, aid agencies said today. Crop failure combined with a severe drought had already thrust tens of thousands of people into a perilous state in Niger and neighboring Chad in the Sahel region of central North Africa.

But now severe flooding is making the situation even worse, Save the Children said today. Heavy rainfall since the end of July has inundated six regions of Niger, affecting more than 58,000 people. Houses have collapsed and rotting animal carcasses are contaminating flood water, spreading disease, the agency said.

The region of Zinder in the south of the country has been hit hardest, with 28,000 people affected. More than 37,000 animals have drowned in the floodwaters. Zinder is also one of the regions suffering most from the current food crisis.

Children in Zinder are already incredibly vulnerable as they have been without enough food for months and their immune systems are already desperately weak. The lives of over 300,000 children in Niger are already at risk, and the floods will put even more children in danger.

On Saturday, the UK Government called for more countries to provide aid to the stricken area. International Development Minister Stephen O’Brien said: “The current humanitarian situation in Niger and Chad is dire and millions of people are desperately in need of food. “The UK Government has been swift to respond to this crisis, providing food aid to feed over 810,000 people, treating 85,500 malnourished children and providing seeds to more than 81,000 households across the Sahel.”

“The World Food Programme (WFP) and agencies on the ground are working to deliver vital aid to those who need it most but they do not have enough funding to meet all the needs. We are calling on other donors to increase their response to this crisis before it’s too late.”

Malek Triki, West Africa spokesman for the WFP, said villagers in Niger are describing the situation as worse than in 2005, when aid organizations treated tens of thousands of children for malnutrition, and worse even than 1973 when thousands died. “What they are saying is that this is the worst crisis in living memory,” Mr Triki said.

The WFP estimates that 7.3 million people – almost half the country’s population – are in desperate need of food. Niger is susceptible to famine because it is mostly not irrigated. Its agriculture is heavily dependent on rain and when the rains fail, so do the country’s crops.

“This year was a double whammy,” said Christy Collins, the country director for US charity Mercy Corps. She explained that in most years, even if the country’s primary crop failed, at least the secondary crops survived. But this year there was so little rain that not only did the fields of millet not bloom, but the secondary greens used for animal fodder also failed. This means that not only do villagers not have enough to eat, but their livestock also died off.


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