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Niger: Leading the response

I knew there was no time to lose when I received the first reports of a looming food crisis in Niger.

Having led our response to the food crisis in 2010, the memories are still fresh in my mind. I know the earlier we respond, the more lives we can save.

I’ve worked on emergency responses for over a decade — from the earthquake in Haiti, to civil war in Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

After years living and working in conflict zones, I’m currently based in our head office in London and advise our teams in West Africa. In times of emergency, I fly out to lead the response — as I’m doing now in Niger.

Never a quiet moment

As Team Leader my days are always busy — often ten hours a day, seven days a week — it’s a demanding role.

The first step is for teams on the ground to meet with communities and assess the situation, asking questions such as ‘How many meals are you eating?’, ‘Are you having to work longer hours to meet your survival needs?’.

Once we have that information, I set about planning our response and securing funding.

I have regular meetings with high-level donors where I explain our plans and ability to respond to the crisis. I assess how many staff we’ll need and when, make sure we have a good supply of vital medicines and food, and ensure our staff are always safe. There are a lot of moving parts to get right!

This year our advocacy department published a new report — A Dangerous Delay — calling for early funding to stave off food crises before they peak. This has already been mentioned by some key donors and is helping us to raise the money desperately needed to help save lives.

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Already a crisis

Over the years I have seen first-hand how vulnerable communities are in Niger. Families often depend on their crops for survival and their limited diet means many children grow up malnourished — stunting their development and making them vulnerable to disease.

Now that the rains have failed, insects have destroyed some of the crops and prices are rising — over five million people are facing hunger.

Parents are being forced to migrate in search of food and work, leaving children alone and vulnerable.

There are reports of children withdrawing from school to help their parents earn money or farm the land and our health workers are expecting to see an increase in children suffering from severe malnutrition.

I hope that now we have raised the alarm, the international community will respond with early action to stave off this crisis before it’s too late.

Please donate to our Niger appeal

This blog was written by Michelle Brown, Team Leader, Niger Emergency Response.

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