By Worthy News Africa Service
NIAMEY, NIGER (Worthy News)-- Christians in this vast, drought-prone country on the edge of the Sahara desert, were among those facing starvation Tuesday, July 6, after aid groups described the food situation in Niger as "extremely desperate".
Save the Children warned that up to 380,000 children under five are at risk of death by starvation. Christian aid and advocacy group Barnabas Fund told Worthy News and its news partner BosNewsLife that Christians are "particularly vulnerable during this time of crisis," as they comprise just 0.3 per cent of the predominantly Muslim population of over 15 million people.
Aid workers in Islamic countries such as Niger have complained that government aid is often not reaching minority Christians. Barnabas Fund told Worthy News in a statement that it is already providing close to 700 Christian families each with "a 100 kilogram sack of either maize or millet and a 500 kilogram bag of rice" which it said was funded by donations.
However Barnabas Fund's partner in Niger cautioned many families have not yet been reached with aid. "There are still areas to cover — nearly 803 families in the Maradi region. We have done what is within our ability to cover the affected areas but what is available is far below the actual food needed in the field," it said.
“The first rains have started and we pray that they do not stop anytime soon.” Over seven million people – around half the population – face food shortages as a result of a severe drought and failed harvests, Barnabas Fund explained.
"Famished families are surviving on flour mixed with wild leaves and boiled plants while staple food prices soar and people are forced to slaughter malnourished livestock for reduced sums. The shortages are forcing people to leave their homes in search of help in the towns and cities, even crossing borders."
The group warned that the crisis is expected to get worse as families need food supplies for another three months until the next harvest in the autumn.
It said it has urged supporters help and "pray that aid will quickly reach those in the greatest need, particularly children, that Christians will find hope in the Lord and have a strong faith to sustain them through this crisis [and that] rain will continue, ahead of the harvest in the autumn."
The cost per family is around $40 a month, said Barnabas Fund. Adding to the difficulties are political tensions in the country, where a senior army officer, Salou Djibo was named head of the military junta that ousted President Mamadou Tandja in a coup in February 2010.
Coup leaders have promised to return Niger to democracy, and installed a civilian prime minister, Mahamadou Danda, at the head of an interim government. (With reporting by Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos).