In Niger, the chief who predicted the food crisis
Foura Guireke, Niger, 6 mai 2010 - People in the village of Foura Guireke look up to their chief. And with good reason.
Foura Guireké knew the signs were bad even before the current food crisis engulfed his village of 897 inhabitants.
Now, an estimated 378,000 children are expected to need treatment for severe malnutrition in the country in 2010.
His first clue came in December 2009. ‘There were very few stalks in the fields “, he said. At that time, Foura Guireké was a pretty village with shady trees, clean houses and chubby babies, a peaceful haven some 15 kilometres from the provincial capital of Maridi.
Most villagers made a meagre living but the storehouses were filled with cereals.
Harouna was right. Men started leaving to find work elsewhere, often in neighboring Nigeria. Since then, Harouna’s predictions have come true and everyone is speaking about the "crisis".
Harouna, who is over 50 years old, is used to years of scarcity. Every year, the lean period is a period of exhaustion when , the family meal is reduced to the minimum. In Niger, a ball of millet is the meal of the poor. Maradi region - over half the population of 3 million live under the poverty threshold.
“People live on what they produce for two or three months at the moment, ‘ he explains, ‘but they should be living on what they grown for the whole year”. Agricultural production is usually split into three equal shares, one daily consumption, one for the seeds and the stocks to survive to the lean season, as the last share is for the the head of the household.
But Harouna knew in December that daily survival would take it all.
Bad memories of 2005
Though a Sahelian virtue, solidarity baulks when a crisis affects so many household as now.. Harouna remembers 2005, a year when a lot of children were lost. Chief of a village lost in misery, Harouna had found a position as a watchman in the therapeutic feeding centre of Maradi. Two of his children were treated there. His son, Issoufou, was 4 years old then. He is 8 now, and in a good shape.
Malnutrition, a curable disease
The crisis though is taking over more and more families in the region and that of neighbouring Zinder. Since January 2010, 50,000 severely malnourished children have been treated in the nutritional centres of Niger.
Lessons learnt from 2005
In Zinder, a blanket feeding operation started on the 28th of April for all children from 6 months to 2 years old. 500,000 children will benefit from these distribution programs in 7 regions of the country. Partners are working around the clock to screen and treat children that are acutely malnourished.
Lessons were learnt from 2005. In 2010, relief workers are ready … but they still need financial support to win..
By Anne Fouchard