Presbyterians Send $10,000 to Niger

The relief and response ministry of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) has sent $10,000 in initial emergency relief aid to famine-stricken Niger

The relief and response ministry of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) has sent $10,000 in initial emergency relief aid to famine-stricken Niger, where millions of people are in danger of starvation.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA), which announced the contribution last week, is sending the aid in response to an appeal from Action by Churches Together International (ACT), a Geneva-based international alliance of churches and relief agencies, of which PDA is a member. ACT has asked for a total of nearly a half-million dollars.

“This is a very initial response,” said PDA Coordinator Susan Ryan. “We’re still determining which partners we’re going to work through.”

After last year’s locust invasion – which was followed by a long drought – Niger was hit by its worst food shortage in two decades. An estimated 3.5 million people in the West African face starvation, according to the government. Meanwhile, the United Nations says more than 800,000 children under age 5 are suffering from hunger, including 150,000 children who show signs of severe malnutrition.

“It’s unfolding, it’s deteriorating and it’s going to be large,” Ryan stated.

According to PDA, the money from the PC(USA)'s One Great Hour of Sharing offering and designated disaster funds will be used to buy more than a ton of millet, milk powder, seed and cattle fodder for thousands of villagers in the hardest-hit regions of Niger.

The money will also be used in support of two of ACT's long-term members, Swiss Interchurch Aid (HEKS) and Lutheran World Relief (LWR), which have worked in Niger for years and have mechanisms in place to respond, Ryan said.

HEKS, through four partner organizations, hopes to deliver 1,125 tons of emergency provisions to 50,000 people in 55 villages and settlements in the severely stricken Tahoua and Maradi regions, according to a summary of the ACT appeal.

Meanwhile, the LWR is developing a proposal for additional humanitarian aid for consideration by the ACT alliance.

Despite months of famine predictions, international food aid started arriving in Niger just last week.

Relief workers say as many as 25 percent of Niger’s population needs food assistance. They complain that the U.N., the government and other agencies should have started large-scale emergency aid much earlier.

The U.N. first appealed for assistance in November, and got almost no response. In June, Niger’s government refused demands that it distribute free food. Officials have been sharply criticized for failing to do more to prepare for the food shortages.

However, donations jumped dramatically in recent weeks, after increased media attention and donors’ responses to TV images of starving children, according to the U.N.