Niger food crisis drives thousands of children out of school
Aid agencies say data compiled by the country’s ministry of education shows that at least 33,000 children have already left schools to follow their parents who are migrating from villages to towns in search of part-time work to generate income to purchase food.
Some children who abandon school sometimes have to work to earn extra money for food, and some families are being separated as parents travel long distances in search of work, according to some aid groups.
“This (33,000) is only the beginning and if no action is taken to respond swiftly to this crisis about 500,000 children could leave school this year,” Gaelle Bausson a spokeswoman for the international charity Oxfam in Niger, said on the phone from the capital, Niamey.
Parents are facing such a dire hunger situation in their communities that the decision to leave or stay could be viewed as choosing between life (migrating) and death (staying) and they cannot leave their children behind, Bausson explained.
Although such migration is a common coping strategy in times of food shortages, Nigerien authorities are concerned that the number of children abandoning school this year is higher than during previous crises.
The country’s education minister said the current figures have already surpassed the total number of cases of children who abandoned school during a similar food crisis in 2010 that stood at 19,000.
“At this rate many schools risk being empty – with no pupils,” Mariama Ali, the country’s education minister said recently.
Niger’s national Early Warning System (SAP) says more than 6 million Nigeriens need immediate food and nutrition assistance after drought, erratic rainfall and insect infestations led to a bad 2011 harvest in the country located in the semi-arid Sahel region that runs south of the Sahara desert.
Niger is one of the countries hardest hit by food shortages in West Africa’s Sahel region, where the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that at least 15 million people are facing food insecurity problems this year.
The crisis in the Sahel has been compounded by roaring staple food prices, the high level of debt of households following past crises and the collapse of longstanding coping mechanisms such as remittances from family members who have now returned home due to instability in neighbouring countries such as Libya and Nigeria.
U.N. agencies and aid groups responding to the crisis in Niger, warned this week that millions of people had already depleted their food reserves.
“To cope with food shortage, families are forced to adapt their feeding and economical behaviours, notably by reducing the number of daily meals, by selling their assets, or migrating to urban areas or neighbouring countries,” Fode Ndiaye, the interim U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Niger said in a statement.
Aid groups say projects to respond to the crisis are being jeopardised by a lack of funding. These projects include the sale of cereals at moderate prices, targeted food assistance, seeds and cattle food distributions, support to cereal banks and to pastoral households, prevention and treatment of malnutrition and of associated medical complications,
So far, $87 million or 38 percent, of the $229 million that humanitarian actors requested in December 2011 for Niger has been funded, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
“These delays (in funding) mean more suffering for these vulnerable people as the government and humanitarians cannot implement their projects to avert the worst of this crisis,” Bausson said.
(Additional reporting by Abdoulaye Massalatchi in Niamey; editing by Rebekah Curtis)