UNICEF Regional Director discusses Sahelian food crisis with Minister of National Planning
ABUJA, 22 June 2010—UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Dr. Gianfranco Rotigliano, the UN Resident Coordinator in Nigeria, Mr. Daouda Toure, and UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, Dr. Suomi Sakai, met the Minister of National Planning, Dr. Shamsudeen Usman, in Abuja today to discuss several issues, including progress on the MDGs, data generation, and the growing nutrition crisis in the Sahelian countries of Niger, Mali, Chad and Cameroon, and its potential impact in northern Nigeria.
The crisis in the Sahel, which is the result of food shortages due to poor rains, is affecting thousands of people, particularly children. There is concern that the emergency could begin to affect communities in northern Nigeria and aggravate existing malnutrition there.
The Minister of National Planning, who was aware of the situation in the Sahel, said that there had been no indication so far that it was affecting Nigeria, but that he had reactivated the National Planning Commission’s nutrition coordination department to assure a synchronized response by governments and other actors to forestall a crisis here.
On 31 May, the National Emergency Management Agency had already convened a meeting of major stakeholders, including UNICEF, to assess the situation in order to prepare for such a response. The National Bureau of Statistics, with UNICEF, is conducting a rapid assessment survey of the status of nutrition in the north this month.
Acute malnutrition is endemic in the northern states of Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina, Jigawa, Yobe and Borno and is the outcome not solely of food shortage, but also of poor nutrition care practices, especially a failure to breastfeed exclusively for six months. UNICEF has been working for some time with the state governments in northern Nigeria to establish and, more recently, to expand community facilities to treat children affected by endemic malnutrition and help families give the best possible care to infants and young children.
UNICEF supports state governments nationwide to provide nutrition services like vitamin A supplements and deworming medicines during national Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Weeks. Supplements of vitamin A taken every four to six months can reduce child mortality from all causes by as much as 23 per cent. Deworming medicine taken twice yearly protects children from anemia, diarrhea and under-nutrition as well as cognitive defects.
UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.
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