Niger Crisis a Focus of Lutheran World Relief

Lutheran World Relief (LWR) is working with local non-governmental organizations on the ground in Niger in the communities of Tillaberi.

An agency acting on behalf of U.S. Lutherans, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is providing emergency relief in the West African nation of Niger, where 3.5 million people are at risk of starvation.

Lutheran World Relief (LWR) is working with local non-governmental organizations on the ground in Niger in the communities of Tillaberi, Dakoro and Tahoua, providing both immediate food aid to last through the October harvest, and seeds to ensure a harvest for next year. Initial plans call for five months of relief assistance for 52,000 people in the worst-affected areas, and funds are being sought to scale up support to other groups.

According to reports, last year's poor rains and swarms of locusts plunged Niger into crisis, putting nearly 3.5 million people at risk of starvation, a third of them children. A prolonged drought only worsened the deep poverty in the country already considered as one of the world's poorest nations. LWR reports that some 3,800 villages out of 10,000 have been affected by the famine in total in the country.

“The situation is alarming,” LWR said in a statement released Thursday. “Not only do the people not have enough food, there is little feed for livestock, and animals are also starving to death at frightening rates. Farming families [which make up 82 percent of the population] are facing difficulty in sowing crops for next year. They lack seeds, and many are so weakened by hunger they are unable to labor in the fields.”

The drought and locusts also affected the neighboring countries of Mali and Burkina Faso, where LWR also works. LWR said it was in the process of assessing needs there.

"This is an immediate crisis that demands an immediate response," said LWR president Kathryn Wolford. "Whatever we can do to keep people from starving before the next harvest, we will do, while at the same time working with the people on long-term solutions to make their communities less vulnerable to a crisis like this in the future."

After months of dire warnings from the United Nations and the relief community that largely went unheeded, LWR says aid from the international community is finally beginning to come in.

The United States recently pledged an additional $7 million in emergency aid, to be added to the $6.1 million already donated, making the U.S. the largest contributor to the relief effort.

However, even with stepped up international assistance, more help is needed, LWR reported. The organization has already begun working with partners there to address the problem. Its response in Niger includes immediate food aid to help alleviate the current crisis, as well as programs focusing on long-term solutions, such as sustainable farming practices, improved seed stocks, increased access to water, and better management of soil quality.

The organization’s initial plans include distribution of 146 tons of food and six tons of seeds, and funding is sought to scale up our effort to reach even more people.