Floods Devastate Niger

The current floods in Niger have contributed to a severe hunger crisis that now affects eight million Nigeriens. It has also decimated homes, vegetation and livestock. Oxfam's humanitarian press officer Caroline Gluck discusses the disaster in the West African nation.

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ALLISON KEYES, host:

From the aftermath of flooding in New Orleans to the horrendous damage done overseas by flooding. As you know, millions continue to struggle in Pakistan just to find shelter and food in the midst of unprecedented flooding there. And there's word now that flooding has compounded a severe food shortage in West Africa. In Niger, which is also known as Niger, massive floods have ravaged homes and rows, left eight million people hungry and increased the risk of disease.

Caroline Gluck is with us to talk about the situation. She's a press officer for Oxfam International, the anti-poverty organization. She joins us from Niger's capital, Niamey. Welcome, Caroline.

Ms. CAROLINE GLUCK (Oxfam International): Thank you.

KEYES: If I were walking around Niamey right now, what would I see?

Ms. GLUCK: You wouldn't necessarily see the extent of the flood damage because it's been very localized. The capital, though, was very badly affected by the flooding and that's because the River Niger reached its highest levels in more than 80 years. The river flows through several West African countries that have also experienced their own levels of flooding.

But here in the capital, families who lived alongside the river were affected several thousands. Many of them are now living in school buildings and temporary shelter. Some of them are living with hosts, friends, relatives, and some are homeless.

So it is bad in areas and it's not just Niamey. About six other regions of the country have been affected. Thousands of people are homeless. And as you've said, it's an(ph) aggravated and already very serious problem here, which is a food crisis - around half of the population, nearly eight million people, facing severe hunger.

KEYES: And crops and livestock were destroyed here also, so this just exacerbates that other problem.

Ms. GLUCK: That's right. People are already on the edge at the moment. It's the peak of the food crisis because people can't harvest the crops until September, October. They've already been struggling to find anything to eat. And of course it's the very young children under five who are the worst affected. And then on top of that, in some spots you have these very severe floods that have wiped out roads, that have flooded people's crops. So things went from bad to worse. We're calling this a double disaster.

KEYES: What kind of help are you getting from the Western community? And I'm wondering that because in the wake of the Haiti earthquake, the other flooding in Pakistan, I mean are people getting donor fatigue? Are they caring about this or sending money at all?

Ms. GLUCK: Yes, we are getting funds, but it's been extremely slow. Oxfam itself drew on its own emergency (unintelligible) to get programs up and running because we weren't getting the scale of outside help that we needed; the floods here, coupled with the extremely serious food crisis, making millions suffer here in Niger, and Niger and West Africa in general isn't an area that gets a lot of media attention. It doesn't get those dramatic television images that people see on their TV screens every day. And unfortunately, money, funding, has been very slow to come.

KEYES: Is there anything that people here can do to help? I mean, you said you've been having trouble getting money. Do people need to send clothes or shoes, can goods? Is there anything at all that people can do?

Ms. GLUCK: People here are used to years of suffering. There's extremely high malnutrition rates. The country is one of the poorest in the world. It ranks at the bottom of the U.N. human development indices. So people have coping mechanisms. They will sell their livestock, for example, to get money for food. There is food in the market. The problem is, people here are so desperately poor that they don't have the means to buy the food that's available.

We need to help them be able to stand on their own feet. I think we would say we don't need things like clothing and so on. What we need is to be able to give people cash immediately or vouchers or provide them with work opportunities so that they can then go out and buy the food that is available on the market.

But in the longer term, we need to look at other things: investing more in agriculture: investing in irrigation so that they can grow crops; diversifying the crops that are available; giving them the things that they need to do to be self-resilient. And that's all called development work. And unfortunately, again, it's less sexy than emergency aid. But it's really vital if countries like Niger can move forward and if the people are to be able to stand on their own feet.

KEYES: Caroline Gluck is a press officer for Oxfam International. She was kind enough to join us from Niamey, Niger. Thank you for updating us on an awful situation.

Ms. GLUCK: Thank you so much.

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