Niger struggles with drought, famine, and now flooding

By October 10, 2012

Niger (MNN/IMB/BGR) — Not since 1932 has the Niger seen the kind of flooding that it's received over the last couple of months.

Over a half million people have been affected by multiple disasters that keep piling on. Oxfam, one of the international agencies responding to the crisis, says the waters have been increasing since July when the rains began.

The water, mud, and debris cut a swath of destruction. Thousands of homes–nearly half the country's already impoverished communities–and over 17 acres of crops: gone. It doesn't sound like much, but when you consider that the floods destroyed what little recovery could be had from the Sahel drought, it's devastating.

The drought caused a hunger crisis that affected more than half a million people in the country. It also brought on cholera which so far has killed 96 people. When you factor in the time it takes to rebuild, the impact of the crisis multiplies exponentially.

The humanitarian wing of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board went into action immediately. Known as Baptist Global Response, the teams connected with partners on the ground who distributed 306 hygiene and living kits to families in two communities: Sarando and Yonkoto. The kits contained mosquito nets, mats, blankets, buckets, soap, a kettle, sugar, and tea.

In Sarando, nearly 95% of the houses, granaries, and other structures were destroyed. BGR partner Gabe Manor* said, "It was like walking through a village of wax houses. Houses and other mud structures had melted and flowed away. You could not have sculpted a more pathetic cityscape."

Smaller, more isolated communities are on the bottom end of the aid chains, so they often go weeks before help shows up. This time, the BGR team worked with representatives from the U.N. and other aid organizations to "fill the gaps." This communication meant organizations were not duplicating efforts and ultimately allowed aid to reach more hurting people, explained Mark Hatfield, who directs BGR's work in Sub-Saharan Africa.

For example, since the ministries released funds, the teams could buy items in the local markets. That, in turn, allowed the supplies to get into the supply line for distribution faster than it would if the aid was imported. However, Manor noted that while they were efficient, speed wasn't the name of the game. "Our goal was that this distribution would be relational. We wanted to boost the work of Christians in the area and profile the work of the local church."

Still, some members of the aid team were overwhelmed with their lack of impact. One team member asked, "What does a blanket, a pot, and a mat really give people?"

Tini Magarie, a leader in another heavily-affected village, answered. He said the team gave the survivors "readiness." Once the crisis was over, they would have what they needed to begin rebuilding their lives again.

BGR partner Shadrach Black summed it up this way: "Our buckets, mats, and blankets represent hope — hope and readiness that, when the time comes, will rebuild their lives."

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* Name has been changed.

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