Christians & Muslims Join Hands to Tackle Niger Famine

Over the last two weeks, tonnes of food aid have arrived in the famine-stricken Niger. However, aid agencies say more is still required to cover the enormous need of the 3.5 million women and children in hunger. Amid the growing tension between faiths in the world in general, Christians and Muslim organisations in the predominately Muslim Niger are united in one heart to carry out the humanitarian mission.

In addition to the world renowned Christian relief organisations such as World Vision, Christian Aid, and World Relief, many Muslim-based charities are also working shoulder-to-shoulder in the frontline with the Christians.

The Centre for Muslims in Africa, which is financially supported by the Kuwaiti government and founded in 1981, has been working in Niger since 1986. Its activities have become more significant because of the hunger crisis recently. Even though the neighbouring Nigeria often sees Muslim-Christian violence, Niger, which is 95 percent Muslim, has been able to maintain peace between different faiths.

"There is no rivalry between the two communities," Abdou Laouali, permanent secretary of the 250-member Evangelical Church of the Republic of Niger said to the Associated Press. "We are working toward the same objective."

"What we are doing here is purely humanitarian ... I came to save lives," said Bishir Ismael Brahim of the Centre for Muslims in Africa.

Abdelkak Azeroual, another Centre for Muslims in Africa coordinator said, "We feed everyone without distinctions, religious or others."

The contribution of Islamic groups in the Niger food crisis has also been recognised by the UN agencies such as the World Food Program and UNICEF.

Currently, food aid is endlessly being handing out to the needy from the aid agencies. However, it was reported that more are still needed, because aid groups have only received food for children judged to be "moderately at risk".

In the UK, a nationwide appeal was launched this week by the leading aid agencies in the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC). DEC was opened for telephone and online donations last Saturday. TV and radio appeals were screened on Tuesday 2nd August as well.

The frontline relief workers warned that the situation needs to be tackled immediately. Jeff Woodke, of Tearfund’s partner Jemed, reported, “Today we have been distributing 57 tonnes of rice to nomadic families in the bush. But it just isn’t enough and we must urgently get more food aid into people’s hands. I have seen women out collecting grass to take home to cook for their families. We are still facing a critical situation.”

Not only human being’s lives are at threat, many livestock also died in the drought. Jeff continued, “There was some rain in this region a few days ago, but it wasn’t enough. We have to hold on and pray that we get more rain and get it soon.”

Director general Benoit Miribel of Spanish humanitarian organisation ACF-Spain said, "This is an emergency. We have to act fast. Once again, it is the poorest and the most dependent who are the most vulnerable, those who have no more money, who are selling their possessions."

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) plans to distribute more than 4,000 tonnes of food destined for the areas hardest hit by the famine, including 2,000 tonnes of rice and 500 tonnes of pulses, over the next few days.

By the end of September WFP plans to have sent 23,000 tonnes of food aid to the 1.6 million people judged to be especially vulnerable.