Expanding hunger relief efforts

Mali, Niger, May 1, 2012

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Fields throughout Niger, where the main food staple is grain, are dry and barren since the harvest failed last fall. The lean season, which usually starts in June, came nearly six months earlier this year. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps
  <span class="field-credit">
    Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Mercy Corps supports nutritional screening centers in western Niger like this one, where families come to get assistance for malnourished children. We're also expanding emergency cash distribution in the north. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

Our teams are working on expanding desperately needed cash distribution to hungry families in Agadez, the largest city in northern Niger, as the country's food crisis deepens. The funds would allow people to purchase food and help strengthen the market through the summer, Niger’s traditional lean season.

Reports now estimate that more than 6 million people are facing severe hunger in the country, and we are seeing rising acute malnutrition rates in children coming to our nutritional screening centers in the Filingué and Ouallam communities in the western Tillabéri region.

The situation gets worse every day. Niger's lean season usually begins in June, when food supplies thin out in markets and families ration their stored grains to last until the next fall harvest. But after 2011 crops failed because of long drought, people began running out of food to eat nearly six months early, at the beginning of this year.

Our teams say many are resorting to foraging for wild seeds and grasses. People have little or no food reserves, and community resources are further strained by the arrival of refugees fleeing from violence in Mali.

Mercy Corps continues to explore ways to expand our work, help families survive until the next harvest and prevent drought and hunger from getting worse every year. In addition to new work in Agadez, we are:

• Supporting clinics in Tillabéri that assess malnutrition and help families get assistance. We also began a cash-for-work program in late March that will help more than 85,000 people, providing living wages in exchange for work on drought resilience projects.

• Assessing urgent needs in Mali, where political instability and rebel fighting are compounding the food crisis that stretches across the Sahel. This semiarid region south of the Sahara Desert encompasses Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Chad — countries that struggle to produce enough food even in a good year. After working in Niger since 2005, our emergency assessment team is now evaluating how to help displaced families, people traumatized by recent escalating violence and those going hungry in Mali as well.

You can help us reach more families across the Sahel. Donate today to enroll more families in cash-for-work programs so they can buy the food they so desperately need.