Thursday, 6 October 2005
Department of Foreign Affairs
Question 72: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs the efforts he has made to assist humanitarian efforts in Niger; if he will provide a report on the situation in Niger compiled by the chairman of the Irish Red Cross following its recent visit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26834/05]
Since 2004, an early end to the rains and desert locust damage to crops and pasture lands adversely affected pasture availability and cereal production in the Sahel region of west Africa. These events exacerbated existing poverty and vulnerability resulting in severe food shortages across a wide region, including in Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania.
In response to the food crisis, Ireland provided funding support of €3 million in August 2005. This was allocated and disbursed to Ireland's non-governmental organisations and UN partners. Approved funding proposals included key NGOs, notably Concern, GOAL, Trócaire and the Irish Red Cross. Funding was also provided to UN partners, the World Food Programme and the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, UNOCHA. The Irish NGOs which received support are delivering feeding programmes which range from supplementary food distributions directed at the most vulnerable women and children to targeted community therapeutic feeding of moderately and severely malnourished children.
In addition to this funding, I asked Mr. David Andrews, chairman of the Irish Red Cross, to report on the findings of his visit to the region. He travelled there in August 2005 accompanied by an official of the Department of Foreign Affairs. Having assessed the situation, Mr. Andrews reported that the country suffers persistent food insecurity but that extreme food shortages this year were caused by a number of converging factors, particularly the early end to the rains in 2004 which depressed agricultural yields, escalating food prices and an invasion of locusts in some areas. Mr. Andrews estimated that 3.5 million people were in need of emergency food assistance and between 1 million and 2 million people were classed as extremely vulnerable and requiring food assistance urgently.
Mr. Andrews also suggested that the international community establish a global fund to tackle food crises more effectively. I have been very supportive of this proposal and have had a number of discussions with our partner governments and the UN aimed at developing such a fund. These discussions have focused on the proposed reforms of the UN Central Emergency Revolving Fund, CERF, to provide UN agencies with access to immediate grant funds, facilitating emergency interventions before crises worsen and directing funds equitably to forgotten crises. In support of this key initiative, Ireland is willing to make a significant pledge to such a reformed and reinforced fund when it is established.
According to the latest information from the region, 5.1 million people are affected by the food crisis across the Sahel region, including Niger. Harvest prospects are now being described as favourable. However, Niger remains vulnerable to repeated crises of food insecurity and malnutrition owing to high household indebtedness and structural poverty. With regard to the particular circumstances prevailing in the region, I can assure the Deputy that the humanitarian situation will continue to be kept under close and ongoing review over the coming period.