Over 1,000 Christians in a famine-stricken village in Niger are in urgent need of aid; they are resorting to eating boiled leaves, while some of the young people have been forced to beg for food elsewhere.
The remote, entirely Christian village of Tasha Ibrahim has been hit extremely hard by the food crisis that has engulfed the Sahel region, affecting 18 million people. Crop shortages as a result of drought have caused food prices to soar; many people can neither grow nor afford to buy food.
A village elder told a visiting Barnabas Aid staff member last week that 2012 was turning out to be the worst year for famine that Tasha Ibrahim had ever experienced.
No one has had a proper meal in months, and they are resorting to eating leaves from the trees, boiled with a small amount of salt to give some flavour.
The village has two 87-metre-deep wells, one of which has ran completely dry, while the other is not providing sufficient supplies to meet demand.
A number of families who had the resources to do so have left for Northern Nigeria, while some of the young people have been forced to go to the economic capital Maradi and other towns to beg for food.
The village has a population of 1016, which includes 376 children under the age of 13.
Niger is prone to drought and consequently suffers regular food shortages. Barnabas Aid began helping Christians in the country following the major food crisis of 2005-06 and has continued to provide famine relief for thousands of hungry Christian families, including those in Tasha Ibrahim, as the need has arisen.
We have also sought to address the causes of hunger by providing funding for water wells and an irrigation scheme, as well as helping Nigerien Christians to become more self-sufficient through the provision of livestock.
Alongside such practical support, Barnabas Aid has also been encouraging spiritual growth in Niger; we have, for example, provided Bibles, supported a Bible School in the capital Niamey, and funded the completion of a church building.
In addition to the dire shortage of food, Christians in Niger are increasingly vulnerable as a result of the presence and activities of al-Qaeda linked separatist rebels in the country, especially in the desert areas of the north. It is feared that Islamist aggression in neighbouring countries Mali, where Islamists have taken over the north, and Nigeria, where Boko Haram continues its violent anti-Christian campaign, may spill over into Niger. Such is the perceived threat level to Christians in Niger that the vast majority of the larger churches in Niamey were protected by a heavy police presence over Christmas and New Year – a period when Christians in minority contexts are particularly vulnerable to attack. A typical example was the Baptist church in the centre of the capital where an armed policeman guarded the preacher in the pulpit with another ten officers among the congregation and two at the entrance, as well as a patrol car outside.
Maxwell Jardim, a Barnabas Aid projects coordinator who visited Niger last week, said:
It was desperately sad to see dear Christian brothers and sisters in such a critical state, reduced to eating leaves from the trees and begging for food. Although other parts of the country are suffering as a result of the latest food crisis, Tasha Ibrahim was by far the worst-affected place that I visited. The Christian residents once again need our prayers and practical support.
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Source: Barnabas Aid