Gadabeji: At this time of year, the Gadabeji Reserve should be refuge for the nomadic tribes who travel across a moonscape on the edge of the Sahara to graze their cattle. But the grass is meager after a drought killed off the last year`s crops. Now the cattle are too weak to stand and too skinny to sell, leaving the poor without any way to buy grain to feed their families.
The threat of famine is again stalking the Sahel, a band of semiarid land stretching across Africa south of the Sahara. The UN World Food Program warned on Friday that some 10 million people face hunger over the next three months before the next harvest in September — if it comes.
"People have lost crops, livestock, and the ability to cope on their own, and the levels of malnutrition among women and children have already risen to very high levels," said Thomas Yanga, WFP Regional Director for West Africa.
The UN`s humanitarian chief, John Holmes, said at the end of a four-day visit to neighboring Chad that many Chadians have gone as far as Libya to search for food.
"The level of malnutrition is already beyond the danger point," Holmes said Thursday. "If we do not act now or as quickly as possible, there is a chance the food crisis will become a disaster."
In Niger, some say the growing food crisis could be worse than the one that struck the country in 2005, when aid organizations treated tens of thousands of children for malnutrition.
"We have lost so much we cannot count," said one 45-year-old tribesman with a family of 20 to feed. He and others on Gadabeji Reserve drive starving donkeys through the burnt orange haze of a sandstorm to gather what little water they can on the desiccated plain and struggle to draw water from private wells.
Each drought and crisis ends up gaining its own name. In 2005, traders and nomads began to refer to the crisis as the Tandja famine.
There`s no name yet for the drought now facing the country. Many can only wait in a nation that faces cyclical hunger without an end in sight.