Southern Baptists continue relief in hungry Niger
8/31/2005By Shawn Hendricks
BANKILARE, Niger (BP)--Southern Baptists continue to bring relief aid to famine-ravaged Niger through an ongoing project in the northwest corner of the country.
After completing a $75,000 food distribution project in the hard-hit Maradi region, missionaries began another hunger relief effort in August among the Tuareg people in the northwestern town of Bankilare. The $21,000 project is designed to provide food to hungry villagers near the borders of Mali and Burkina Faso.
"Our plan is to distribute at least 30 metric tons of rice between now and the beginning of the local harvest in mid-October," said missionary Nate Gunter.
Before the project ends, more than 700 households will receive rice at least once, Gunter said. Most will get aid two or three times. About 350 families already have received food, with three more distribution dates planned before harvest time.
The project focuses on families with no means of purchasing grain at local markets and those unable to receive local government assistance. Gunter described the situation in and around Bankilare as "extremely critical." While some have already died, many others suffer from malnutrition and diarrhea.
About 1,000 people live in Bankilare, Gunter estimates, with up to 10,000 more living within a few miles. Everyone in the area is rationing food, he said. In recent weeks, people in the town have begun eating grass and animal feed -- wheat chaff, millet stalks, corn stalks -- boiled to a paste.
"Many boys told me they would only eat every other day or every third day until harvest," Gunter said after a recent visit. "I found that all requests for money had ceased; every person asked only for food."
Bankilare is not alone in its desperation. Drought and an invasion of locusts have made Nigerís chronic famine conditions even worse, threatening an estimated 3 million people with starvation in the West African nation.
Recently Southern Baptists delivered food aid to six villages among the Hausa people in the Maradi region. The effort supplied more than 8,000 Hausa with tons of millet and beans.
Gunter hopes other Southern Baptists will join in the aid effort. At the moment there are no plans to continue his work in Bankilare once his two-year missionary journeyman term ends in October.
"I am praying (that) we will be able to provide for a long-term evangelistic presence in Bankilare after I have left," he said.
The Tuareg, a nomadic people group, live in parts of Niger, Algeria, Libya, Mali and Burkina Faso. Most have no knowledge of the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
For more information or to contribute to hunger and relief efforts in Niger, contact the International Mission Board's World Hunger & Relief Ministries at (800) 999-3113, ext. 1736. Send checks to the International Mission Board, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, Va. 23230.
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