An early end to rains and widespread locust damage in Niger in 2005 demonstrated starkly the country's vulnerability to climate change. An extract from the UN Development Programme's Human Development Report 2007/2008:
Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world. It ranks close to bottom of the Human Development Index (HDI), with a life expectancy of nearly 56 years, 40 percent of children having low weight for their age in an average year, and more than one in five children dying before their fifth birthday.
Vulnerability to climate shocks in Niger is linked to several factors, including widespread poverty, high levels of malnutrition, precarious food security in 'normal' years, limited health coverage and agricultural production systems that have to cope with uncertain rainfall. During 2004 and 2005 the implications of these underlying vulnerabilities were powerfully demonstrated by a climate shock, with an early end to rains and widespread locust damage.
Agricultural production was immediately affected. Output fell sharply, creating a cereals deficit of 223,000 tonnes. Prices of sorghum and millet rose 80 percent above the five-year average. In addition to high cereal prices, deteriorating livestock conditions deprived household of a key source of income and risk insurance.
The loss of pasture and nearly 40 percent of the fodder crop, along with rising animal feed prices and 'distress sales', pushed down livestock prices, depriving households of a key source of income and risk insurance. With vulnerable households trying to sell under-nourished animals for income to buy cereals, the drop in prices adversely affected their food security and terms of trade.
By the middle of 2005 around 56 zones across the country were facing food security risks. Some 2.5 million people—around a fifth of the country's population—required emergency food assistance.
Twelve zones in regions such as Maradi, Tahou and Zinder were categorized as 'extremely critical', meaning that people were reducing the number of meals eaten each day, consuming wild roots and berries, and selling female cattle and production equipment.
The crisis in agriculture led to severe human costs, including:
In some respects, Niger's low level of human development makes the country an extreme case. However, developments during 2005 demonstrated in stark fashion the mechanisms through which increased climate-related risk can disrupt coping strategies and create extensive vulnerabilities.
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