Niger: Emergency assistance is not enough

Emergency assistance is not enough to end Niger's hunger problems. The underlying causes of the current crisis can be addressed only through longer term research, development and policy programs focusing on agriculture, particularly on livestock keeping, the backbone of Nigerian livelihoods. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), a US-funded and research-based organization, argues convincingly in its July reports that the crisis in Niger is serious but less severe and affects far fewer people than current crises in four other African countries. This forecast organization warns of the consequences of continued failure to address the root causes of Niger's current crisis. 'Without a similar commitment and prolonged attention to addressing the chronic issues that are at the heart of the current localized crisis in Niger, the same problems will reoccur again soon,' FEWS NET warns. ILRI agrees that much more of the world's attention and resources should be spent addressing the root causes of the hunger crisis now afflicting parts of Niger and its Sahelian neighbours. Emergency assistance is not enough. Such assistance will save the lives of infants today who will go on to suffer and succumb to the affects of poverty over the coming months and years, after the world's media has turned its spotlight elsewhere. The factors underlying Niger's chronic food insecurity need to be understood and acted upon. That requires more research and development work. The case for making agriculture – and livestock production in particular – a priority in research, development, policy and emergency assistance for Niger is overwhelming. The present food crisis also calls for better and stronger links between relief, development and research work. Such links will help ensure that decisions made by development and relief workers are based on credible evidence, that policymakers and journalists are informed by the high-quality research-based information, that research remains relevant to local priorities and that short-term emergency activities do not inadvertently divert longer term R&D from tackling the underlying causes of poverty and vulnerabilities of poor people We need to work in new turfless ways, bringing together the resources and expertise of emergency, development and research workers for integrated and long- as well as short-term problem-solving. The attention Niger's hunger and suffering has generated in recent weeks offers us an opportunity to scale up work that will not only relieve the suffering of the tiny victims of this Nigerian tragedy and their families, and not only help farming communities rebuild their livelihoods, but also leave a more enabling legacy for future generations of the  peoples of the Sahel, whose indomitable spirit in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges we would do well to emulate. Links ILRI photo essay (pdf and html): 'Niger: Behind the Famine Footage' (8 Aug 2005). ILRI image gallery (Flash): ‘Daily Life and Livestock Livelihoods in Niger’ (Jun 2005). ILRI website ‘Top Story’ (html): ‘Livestock aid urgently needed for Niger families’ (2 Aug 2005).

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