It is nearing the end of the lean season in Niger, and Tini Kane's food reserves have almost run out. Fifty years old and widowed three times, Tini is responsible for feeding 23 members of her family. She says she can't find a job and has had to sell her goats to cope with the bad harvests of both this year and the last. She often goes hungry and her grandchildren suffer from malnutrition. “The misery of Niger is famine,” she exclaims.
Similar exasperation is shared by millions of others in a region caught up in a humanitarian disaster.
The food crisis currently afflicting an estimated 18 million in Niger, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Senegal, and other countries across the Sahel has roots in a multitude of economic, environmental, social, and political factors. Desertification and climate change, as well as pest infestations, volatile rains, and long periods of drought have led to years of crop failures and poor harvests in the region.
Four million children are projected to suffer from acute malnutrition, with at least one million at risk of developing severe acute malnutrition.
In Niger, population growth, high fuel costs, and the rising price of staple foods coupled with chronic poverty and a lack of basic healthcare, sanitation, and education have placed more than six million at risk of going hungry in a country with a population of approximately 15.5 million.
With roughly 80 per cent of its land covered by the Sahara Desert, Niger is facing a cereal deficit of more than 500,000 metric tonnes. Malnourishment, which was already high, is on the rise.
The conflict in Northern Mali has put further strain on food shortages and insecurity in the region. More than 430,000 people have fled Mali and sought refuge in bordering countries, with as many as 50,000 fleeing to Niger alone.
There is also a fundamental lack of protection against erratic rises in food prices.
Many families like Tini's have resorted to selling their livestock, often far below market prices, in order to pay for food on a daily basis.
Desperate times, after all, necessitates desperate measures.
But yet, the battle against hunger is seemingly being lost. Non-governmental agencies have stepped in but the deficit remains to be bridged. Meanwhile, queues of emaciated mothers and rickety children are getting longer at relief camps.