|© UNICEF Niger/2010/Curney|
|A cash transfer card is held by one of the programme's recipients in Niger's Maradi region.|
By Vanessa Curney
NIAMEY, Niger, 6 October 2010 – For the first time in an emergency setting, UNICEF is using cash as a way to help families affected by a food crisis.
The Government of Niger – supported by UNICEF and the non-governmental organizations CARE and Save the Children – will distribute money to every woman with at least one child under the age of two in areas most affected by the country’s severe drought.
The cash transfer of $40 per month for three months is aimed at about 30,000 vulnerable families. Payments are being made to cover a period at the end of the ‘lean season,’ when families have already experienced several months of extreme shortages before the October harvest.
Fast and effective aid
UNICEF Representative in Niger Guido Cornale said that the goal of the pilot cash transfer programme is to “protect the nutritional status of children and to stop them from further falling into the pit of malnutrition.”
“This could well be a tool that provides powerful assistance against such crises in the future,” he added.
Idi Sahirou, Chief of Dan Neino village in Niger’s Maradi region, recalls the villagers’ lives after last year’s severe drought led to alarming shortfalls in crop and pasture production. People were eating wild leaves and cutting barren trees to sell firewood, he said.
“At the beginning of the rainy season, we had no food to eat, no grains to sow,” said Mr. Sahirou. “People were tired, hungry and deserting the village in steady numbers, mainly to Nigeria, in search of work and money … Sometimes, it fell even to the children to cut the trees for selling.” This laborious activity took precedence over attending school, and the country’s basic education rates suffered.
|© UNICEF Niger/2010/Curney|
|Idi Sahirou, Chief of Dan Neino village in the Maradi region of Niger. The area has been hit hard by a nutrition crisis sweeping across much of sub-Saharan Africa.|
This year, the lean season has lasted longer than usual. It is the toughest period for households, in particular for children, when the previous harvest has been consumed but food from the new harvest is not yet available.
The youngest children are the most vulnerable. To immediately address their needs, the World Food Programme and UNICEF is undertaking so-called ‘blanket feeding interventions’ for children under the age of two, setting aside supplementary foods such as the peanut-based product ‘Plumpy’ Doz,’ a fortified corn-soy blend, or a sugar and oil mix packed full of vitamins.
The cash transfer programme and blanket feeding distributions have provided instant relief to children.
“Now we are getting oil, flour and sugar for our babies, and money for the rest of us to buy what we need,” said Mr. Sahirou. “We may not have survived for much longer without this.”
The cash transfer programme provides families with an extra boost, giving mothers money to buy food such as millet, maggi (stock), oil and cereals for themselves and the other members of their families – and allowing them to safeguarding their babies’ own special foods.
Now that his community’s very basic needs are beginning to be met, the Chief can start thinking about its future. He says he would like to create a cereal bank and a school building for the village children.
In many cases, cash transfers can save time and be more cost effective than traditional food interventions, while allowing families to make their own choices. They can also inject money into the local community as households buy local produce rather than more expensive imported products.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Market Information System will be monitoring market prices in the intervention areas to prevent any adverse effects.