|© UNICEF/HQ05-1280/Radhika Chalasani|
|A woman helps to distribute millet, a Niger diet staple, in the village of Tsake, near the town of Maradi.|
By Bob Coen
NEW YORK, 19 August 2005 – As the disturbing images of starving children in Niger fade from the international media, a similar crisis could be just around the corner for other countries in the Sahel – the vast parched region of West Africa bordering the Sahara desert.
People and governments around the world have responded generously to Niger's food crisis, allowing UNICEF to help the children of Niger, throughout the months to come, to survive the fight of their lives.
Not only Niger, but the entire Sahel region is prone to recurring food shortages. UNICEF's Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah has just returned from an assessment visit to Niger and Burkina Faso. “The crisis that is hitting West Africa, in particular Sahelian countries, is not only hitting Niger, but all the countries surrounding Niger, including Mali, Burkina Faso and Nigeria,” she said.
Four areas in Burkina Faso have already been identified as being at immediate risk of food shortage. Mauritania is also potentially vulnerable.
|© UNICEF/HQ05-1281/Radhika Chalasani|
|UNICEF bought grain through a ‘cereal bank’ and provides it to villagers at highly subsidized prices.|
Monitoring the situation
UNICEF’s Chief of Nutrition, Rainer Gross, says the organization is keeping a close watch on the situation in the region. “It's surely not only an issue of Niger. It popped up first but there is concern there is a similar situation in parts of neighbouring countries.
“I'm sure the donor community is aware and would help immediately where help is needed.”
The United Nations World Food Programme is also warning of a potential food crisis that could affect over 4 million people in the region.
Factors affecting child survival
But as international organizations take steps to avert a crisis similar to the one in Niger from happening elsewhere, UNICEF is also calling attention to broader issues.
Rima Salah points out that mothers who cannot read or write have trouble learning and using proper child care practices – directly impacting the survival of children, including in crisis situations. Studies show that children born to mothers who are educated have lower mortality rates. Poverty is another major long-term contributing factor to the vulnerability of the region to crises.
Without action on the broader issues, “we will always have food shortages in the Sahelian countries,” says Ms. Salah.
22 August 2005:
UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah discusses the regional threat of a food crisis in the Sahel.