Niger is facing a severe food crisis following a drought and crop failure in late 2009, compounded by flooding in August. According to the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), almost 50% of the population of Niger are in need of food aid this year. A major humanitarian response has mobilised and around US$251 million in humanitarian funds have been reported to the UN’s financial tracking service, which translates to about US$32 per person in humanitarian aid for the 7.9 million people affected (compared with US $80 per flood affected person in Pakistan and US$ 1,492 per earthquake affected person in Haiti).
That 2010 would be a bad year was known well in advance, following harvest failures in late 2009 and warnings issued by the government in January 2010 that 2.7 million people would be ‘severely vulnerable’ and 5.7 million ‘moderately vulnerable’ to food insecurity. The funding requirements for Niger included in the 2010 West Africa UN Consolidated Appeal however were a modest US$ 38 million, of which a meagre 11% was funded by the mid-year review point.
By April 2010, the government of Niger had declared an emergency and requested international assistance. The UN launched an Emergency Humanitarian Action Plan (EHAP) requesting US$ 191 million to meet the humanitarian funding needs of the rapidly evolving food crisis. Contributions to the EHAP have, in contrast to the predictable needs expressed in the UN West Africa appeal, arrived quickly.
In May, the target population for food delivery was doubled to 1.5 million people and following a country wide nutrition survey, that revealed a global acute malnutrition rate at 16.7% – above the WHO emergency threshold of 15% – the target population was substantially revised upwards again, to 4.5 million people. WFP is currently targeting 7.9 million people for food assistance. As the scale of the crisis became evident, appeal requirements were revised upwards in July to US$ 371 million.
In comparison with the 2005 food security crisis in Niger, emergency funding requests have been met promptly enabling early action.
The European Commission’s Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) made an emergency funding decision of EUR 10 million to the Sahel region in December 2009 followed by an additional allocation directly from the European Development Fund (EDF) in April 2010 of which EUR 15 million was for Niger.
The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) released emergency funds early to existing NGO partners in late 2009 via their West Africa Humanitarian Response Fund and committed a further US $20 million to UN agencies and NGOs working in Niger between February and May 2010.
The UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has provided funding to UN agencies to the tune of US$35 million, mostly under the ‘rapid response’ window, from May 2010.
Since mid-June 2010 the US government committed an additional US $13 million.
Agencies involved in the response have noted that early funding and improvements in surveillance and response capacity since 2005 has meant a much larger catastrophe has been mitigated. What is not entirely clear however are the reasons why the original requirements set out in the UN’s West Africa consolidated appeal were relatively low, when the crisis was predicted as early as October 2009, and why even those modest requirements met with such a disappointing funding response – until that is, a serious crisis began to unfold.
The levels of funding received within the EHAP for the emergency response in Niger dwarf the funds received for all the other humanitarian needs represented in the UN’s West Africa appeal.
While donors have improved the speed of their funding response to acute humanitarian needs in Niger since the 2005 crisis, it would appear from observing funding patterns across the Sahel and West Africa regions in 2010, that manifest acute humanitarian needs are still significantly more likely to receive humanitarian funds than predictable chronic needs.