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Chronic hunger affects millions in Niger. Credits: Lane Hartill/CRS

Chronic hunger affects millions in Niger.
Credits: Lane Hartill/CRS

Deadly hunger once again stalks Niger. It affects people like Abdoulai and his family in the dry, sandblasted village of Toudoun Jaka. The rain never came here last year; the land cracked and Abdoulai’s fields produced less than a single bag of millet, not enough for his children for a week.

Abdoulai has become used to the burning stomach and painful joints caused by hunger. But the worst, he says, is when your sight blurs. “If someone is walking past you, it will seem like two people. When the sun goes down, you can’t see at all.”

The village emptied out as men tried to find work in the capital, Niamey. Abdoulai stayed, scraping up occasional work at $2 a day crushing rock in a nearby gold mine. In an exploratory mission, Caritas Niger (CADEV ) discovered other half empty villages, with fields untilled and schools closed. In some, people were surviving on wild plants alone.

Caritas provided emergency relief through the Sahel Working Group, a coalition of Caritas aid agencies. But Caritas is also working to highlight that the Sahel region has gone beyond the tipping point. Food insecurity is now endemic in West Africa. In Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, northern Nigeria and Burkina Faso 800,000 children under five needed treatment for severe malnutrition.

Fr Isidore Ouédraogo, Secretary General of Caritas Burkina Faso(OCADES), said radical re-thinking and long-term investment are needed. “We must reinforce local food production and harness the resources we have, like solar energy, to pump water. Crops have to be more diverse and adapted to climate change,” he said.

With food prices hitting a new record high, Caritas Internationalis appointed a Food Security Coordinator at its Secretariat while strengthening relationships with the UN’s food agencies, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Food Programme.