The World Bank has responded swiftly to the food crisis in Niger making funds from existing operations available for emergency food aid for people on the brink of starvation. The Government of Niger has estimated at least 2.5 million people are suffering from food shortages - with an estimated 80,000 children at risk of severe malnutrition in the country's east and north.
The World Bank's Country Manager for Niger, Vincent Turbat, says the crisis has hit the country's women and children the hardest. "The rain stopped abruptly at the end of 2004 and therefore the harvest was lower than expected," Turbat says. "Then the locusts arrived and destroyed part of the harvest. So the existing malnutrition, rain and locusts led to the situation we have today. We have pockets now where people have no more food and they need to be helped until the next harvest, about mid September."
Emergency food funds
The Bank has already informed the Government of Niger that it can redirect part of the funds of the Public Expenditure Reform Credit (US$40 million) to fight the food crisis, starting with the grant component of US$11.7. Similarly the Government could use part of the funds made available under the HIPC (US$84 million annually) for emergency food.
In addition to that, the Bank is using $180,000 from a community driven development project already in existence in Niger to buy cereals. The cereals will be deposited in cereal banks - venues where villagers are usually able to buy cereals at a low cost.
The World Bank has already financed through the Locust Emergency Project the purchase of US$0.5 million in improved millet seeds and gave approval to the mobilization of additional US$1.2 million for the purchase of cereals and food supplements to be distributed to villagers in need.
According to Peter Kristensen, senior environmental specialist in the Bank's Africa region, the Bank has also given its stamp of approval for the purchase of 850 tons of cotton grains for animal feed - worth about US$200,000.
He says the US$60 million Africa Emergency Locust Project - which covered seven African countries - was a clear cut example of the Bank's quick response to a crisis. Advance money - US$12.4 million - was available to Niger and six other countries as early as last September to finance operational cost of locust control and relieve the impact on people affected by the locust plague. Today, country projects are fully underway in Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, and Senegal.
Team flying to Niger
Kristensen, who's the task team leader of the Bank's Africa Emergency Locust Project, flew to Niger today to assess firsthand what further funding could be available under that project to help combat the current crisis.