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At a glance: Niger

Niger: Food crisis may yet worsen

© UNICEF video
Over 288,000 children under five have been treated for some form of malnutrition.

By Sarah Crowe

MARADI, Niger, 23 November 2005 – Startling new figures from Niger show that, since the worst of the food crisis in July, more than 12 per cent of the country’s children under 5 have been treated for some form of malnutrition. Humanitarian workers are warning that the crisis is not over; a new critical period is expected in January-March of next year.

In the main hospital of Niamey, the country’s capital city, the emaciated figures of bird-like babies are proof enough of the ongoing crisis.

“Up to 20 per cent of children here are chronically malnourished – that’s one in five children in a city like Niamey, where the conditions are meant to be much better,” said UNICEF’s Isselmou Boukhary. “So you can see that the situation in the rural areas is much more serious. It’s really shocking.”

© UNICEF video
Despite a good harvest, debts are forcing many to sell their grain, leaving little for next year.

The total number of children treated in clinics for some form of malnutrition is now over 288,000, out of a total estimated under-5 child population of 2.5 million.

Debts contribute to shortages

Activity at some of the clinics run by UNICEF’s partners like ‘Médicins Sans Frontières’ (MSF) is starting to wind down. But there a sense of a lull before the storm. Although most of Niger has had a good harvest, many have had to sell the grain they collected in October to pay off debts.

“It is not the end of the crisis,” said Dr. Alberto Kalume at the MSF Clinic in Aguie. “Most of those who had a harvest are in debt, and they will be left with very little in their granaries. So by January, February, and March it’s going to be really bad again.”

© UNICEF video
Less than two per cent of all Niger’s mothers exclusively breastfeed, which can exacerbate the nutritional situation of their children.

Poor nutrition habits

Poor nutrition habits and superstitions have exacerbated the effects of the crisis. Less than two per cent of all mothers exclusively breast feed, and many start feeding babies solid food too early. To make matters worse, women here tend to have large families – eight on average.

There’s also a superstition that babies who are given water may become thieves when they’re older. As a result, babies become dehydrated, especially when carried on their mothers’ backs in the scorching temperatures of the Sahara.

Eric Mullerbeck contributed to this story from New York.




23 November 2005:
UNICEF’s Sarah Crowe reports on Niger’s ongoing food crisis.

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