|UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah at the Médecins Sans Frontières feeding centre in Maradi, southern Niger.|
By Kun Li
NIAMEY, Niger, 5 August 2005 – UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah is visiting Niger to see firsthand the situation of hundreds of thousands of children, hit hard by the country’s food crisis. The first item on her agenda was a meeting with President Tandja Mamadou.
“After speaking with the President of Niger, I feel that he is committed to work with UNICEF and the UN systems to really respond to the needs of women and children and the population of Niger,” said Ms. Salah.
About 3.6 million people have been affected by the crisis in Niger, among them 800,000 children under five. Nearly 160,000 children are moderately malnourished, while another 32,000 are severely malnourished.
|© UNICEF Niger/2005/Chalasani|
|A Nigerien mother waits to have her child examined.|
UNICEF and its partners have made an emergency appeal for $16 million as famine threatens to spread through the region. Neighbouring countries including Nigeria, Mali, and Burkina Faso are at risk of serious food shortages. Ms. Salah met with representatives of the UN team responding to the Niger crisis in order to discuss the regional implications and how to deal with them.
Ms. Salah also went to Maradi in south Niger, the epicentre of the crisis. At a feeding centre run by Médecins Sans Frontières, she spent time with children, their families, and health workers. “For our relief efforts to be the best they can be, I feel I have to see what’s really happening on the ground,” she said.
The seriousness of the crisis was underlined by a tragic event that occurred during the Deputy Executive Director’s visit, when a 12-month-old baby boy died from severe malnutrition, literally before the eyes of Ms. Salah and staff who were with her at the time.
“I want all the people who have suffered so much and all those who are working so hard on the relief effort to know that UNICEF considers this an urgent priority.”
|© UNICEF Niger/2005/Chalasani|
|Ms. Salah met with children and their families at the feeding centre.|
The UNICEF role
UNICEF has provided therapeutic milk, food, and essential drugs to 10 fixed therapeutic feeding centres and 21 outreach therapeutic centres. Describing the organization’s response, Ms. Salah said, “Our objective is to save lives, starting with the most vulnerable villages and districts.”
In collaboration with the World Food Programme, 614 tons of cereals have been delivered to 62 affected villages, benefiting an estimated 200,000 people, including 40,000 children under five. About 900 additional tons of cereals are being delivered to 90 additional villages, and approximately 6 tons of seed (corn, wheat, potato) have also been provided.
“Empowering the government and the local communities are equally important, so that we can prevent this from happening next year,” added Ms. Salah. UNICEF is supporting the creation of cereal banks and helping provide community education about nutrition and how to deal with shortages.
Ms. Salah’s visit to Niger began on Wednesday and continues through Sunday.
3 August 2005:
UNICEF New York correspondent Rachel Bonham Carter reports on how the organization is responding to the Niger food crisis.