Mission Agencies Join International Efforts in Niger

Mission agencies are continuing to join the international contingent of aid organizations that are implementing aggressive famine relief plans in poverty-stricken Niger.

As some 3.6 million people in Africa's poverty-stricken Niger continue to face severe food shortages, mission agencies are continuing to join the international contingent of aid organizations that are implementing aggressive famine relief plans.

Already the second poorest nation in the world, Niger and its helpless population has been further crippled by drought and a locust infestation.

Back to back droughts in 2003-2004, decreased the nation's crop harvest. The population persevered and again planted, hoping for relief. But in 2005, a plague of locusts swarmed the country, eating almost all vegetation, the precious crops that were to feed a nation.

“Four million people are in desperate need of food,” reported Springfield, Mo-based Convoy of Hope. “Without help, these people who are unable to help themselves will perish. Some families have even resorted to scavenging anthills in order to retrieve grains left over by insects.”

Although a new crop has been planted and recent rains make growing conditions favorable, Convoy of Hope reports that the next three months are crucial, as most families have invested everything in order to plant and survive.

Niger-based Convoy of Hope partners have requested emergency assistance to enable them to care for those communities most affected by this disaster. In response, Convoy of Hope is rushing 80,000 pounds of rice, beans, maize, and pasta to the region. An assessment team will soon travel there in order to assist with distribution points and training.

Convoy of Hope plans to donate approximately 250-300,000 pounds of grain products over the next two to three months to help alleviate the famine in the southern and eastern areas of Niger.

Also joining in the international effort is Operation Blessing, which has funded the delivery of 100 truckloads (1164 tons) of cereal, beans and oil to around 68,000 people in 64 starving villages in the remote areas.

"As always, Operation Blessing is forging relief efforts into areas unreached by larger humanitarian agencies," OBI's Bill Horan told Mission Network News (MNN).

"Operation Blessing is viewing this as a disaster relief situation. This is the same way we'd react to an earthquake or a fire or a tsunami. We're trying to save lives, and our most useful way of doing that is to provide resources to faith-based organizations who already have infrastructure."

According to Mahame Sani Abdou, Niger's deputy director for agriculture, Niger is in need of "long-term structural development programs that require huge financial investment.”

"We have to be supported by donors to be able to diversify our agricultural production," Sani told the Associated Press. “Niger doesn't have the financial resources to do it on its own adding that it costs $19,000 to irrigate just 2 1/2 acres of land.”

International experts also believe only huge investments can make a difference. The U.S.-based International Food Policy Research Institute said in a report released Thursday that Africa needs at least $303.2 billion in new investments to reduce hunger.

The institute predicted that tens of millions of Africans will go hungry over the next 20 years unless major changes in trade and aid policies are enacted.

In addition to Niger, at least 1.6 million people in nearby Mali, Burkina Faso and Mauritania also are affected, according to the United Naitons.