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At a glance: Niger

Crop failure, locusts contribute to critical food shortages

© UNICEF Niger/2003/Pirozzi
This little boy was able to feed himself after successfully completing treatment for severe malnutrition at the Maradi supplementary feeding centre in Niger. The centre is supported by UNICEF and Médecins sans frontières.

By Marlene Barger

NIAMEY, Niger, 8 April 2005 – Children and families in Niger face critical food shortages in 2005.

Following poor harvests, almost 3.7 million people – half of them children – do not have enough to eat, and this number is expected to grow. Last year, swarms of desert locusts consumed millet and niebe bean crops, and insufficient rainfall damaged harvests and threatened livestock.

There is already evidence that mothers and children are foraging for leaves and breaking into termite mounds in search of the few grains stored there.

Many families count on cereal banks to make grain accessible and affordable in the villages. But the cereal banks are empty. Those who took out loans of grain last year were unable to repay them because their harvests were inadequate. Cereal bank management committees failed to anticipate and prepare for the crisis.

© UNICEF Niger/2003/Pirozzi
Severe malnutrition is common in Niger's rural areas, especially during the ‘lean period’ – the months of June, July and August, when grain stocks are at their lowest and harvest has not yet begun.

This situation is compounded by the fact that under ‘normal’ conditions, 40 per cent of children in Niger are already malnourished. When the quantity and quality of their meals decreases further, they are much more susceptible to diseases and severe malnutrition.

Food insecurity also affects children’s education. Some children leave school to help supplement the family income by working. Other children spend their days looking for food.

Funds needed to treat malnutrition

UNICEF Niger has already invested $270,000 of regular resources for the emergency purchase of 36 tons of therapeutic foods to treat 14,000 severely malnourished children for six months.

© UNICEF Niger/2003/Pirozzi
At the Maradi supplementary feeding centre, mothers receive Plumpeanut, a therapeutic food used for treating malnourished children.

UNICEF could treat another 15,000 severely malnourished children for six months if additional funds become available. This project also aims to reduce household food insecurity and its consequences in Niger. Overall, the organization is seeking $566,000, to provide food, restock cereal and livestock banks, provide agricultural equipment and supplies, and train communities to prevent severe malnutrition.

With these resources, as many as 29,000 severely malnourished children will be treated for six months during the most critical point of Niger’s famine. Mothers and children will have access to affordable food through restocked cereal banks and vegetables raised in irrigated gardens.

Healthy livestock will provide more milk, improving the quality of children’s meals. Family migration will be reduced, allowing children to continue their education, which is vital to their development, and which helps provide a sense of security and continuity during times of difficulty and stress.



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