UNICEF is committed to doing all it can to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in partnership with governments, civil society, business, academia and the United Nations family – and especially children and young people.
Women from the village of Kollia, Niger, share their success stories with UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Yoka Brandt. They have managed to protect their children from malnutrition through practices such as exclusive breastfeeding and improved sanitation.
By Shushan Mebrahtu
MARADI/NIAMEY, Niger, 13 April 2012 – UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Yoka Brandt called for urgent and enhanced action to save the lives of over one million children at risk of life-threatening severe acute malnutrition across the Sahel region. Ms. Brandt recently visited Niger, where an estimated 394,000 under-5 children will need treatment for severe acute malnutrition this year.
“Learning from the 2010 crisis, we are better prepared to deal with this situation. The robust network of nutrition treatment centres built in the past is working and saving lives. What is required is more funding, supplies and capacity on the ground to scale-up these services,” said Ms. Brandt.
“As one in two children under the age of 5 already suffers from malnutrition in Niger, any additional stress can be devastating. This year’s early start of the ‘lean season’ is pushing more families and children to the edge. The situation is precarious and could tip as we see more children with life-threatening severe acute malnutrition. Already weak, these children are also more vulnerable to killer diseases like cholera, malaria, diarrhoea.”
UNICEF and partners are stepping up efforts to meet the increasing needs by strengthening the flow of life-saving supplies and services to health centres and therapeutic feeding centres. These include prepositioning and distributing ready-to-use therapeutic food, drugs and other essential items to strengthen the operation and screening capacity of health centres.
Halima sits with her daughter Zahira at the Maradi Regional Hospital in Niger, where children under age 5 are being treated for severe acute malnutrition and health complications. Zahira has been receiving treatment and is recovering.
A Consolidated Appeal, launched by humanitarian actors in Niger, requires US$229 million for life-saving operations in the country. UNICEF and its partners call on the international community to intensify efforts and mobilize all means necessary to save the lives of children and women suffering from the impacts of this crisis.
Hope amid crisis
Ms. Brandt’s visit to Niger came at a time when communities and families are grappling with the multiple effects of drought, poor harvest, rising food prices and insecurity. Over 5 million people, nearly 35 per cent of the country’s entire population, will suffer from food insecurity.
Zahira, 2, was being treated for severe acute malnutrition when Ms. Brandt met her at the Maradi Regional Hospital in eastern Niger. “She became weak as she stopped eating and her body started developing lesions,” said Zahira’s mother, Halima, who left her other four children with neighbours to bring her to the hospital.
For the last seven days, Zahira has been receiving intensive medical care and ready-to-use therapeutic foods in the hospital, which have helped her regain strength. “I am happy to see my daughter recover,” said Halima. “I was so worried because her situation was severe. Thanks to the treatment and care she is receiving, my daughter has survived.”
Breaking a vicious cycle
Communities in Niger and other countries also affected by the current emergency are still recovering from the last crisis that hit only two years ago. Families are coping with the food shortage by selling their livestock, borrowing money, or by reducing the quantity and quality of their daily meals.
To stop the vicious cycle of crises and build resilience against future shocks, UNICEF and partners are implementing longer-term interventions to tackle and prevent the underlying causes of malnutrition in Niger. These programmes include supporting the Government and communities to strengthen integrated health, water and sanitation, education and social protection programmes as well as prevention measures to promote effective child-care practices.
A child is weighed as part of a routine screening for malnutrition at a UNICEF-supported therapeutic feeding center in Tibiri village, Niger.
“Empowering families and communities to adopt effective family care practices works,” said Ms. Brandt. “I met mothers in the village of Kollia who were proud to tell me that none of their children are suffering from malnutrition since they have started practicing exclusive breastfeeding, routine immunization, hand-washing and sanitation.”
The response to the food and nutrition crisis in Niger faces other challenges. Insecurity in the Sahel is making the nutrition crisis worse and access more difficult. Approximately 30,000 refugees are seeking safety in Niger from ongoing fighting in Northern Mali. They need humanitarian relief, adding to the burden of the nutrition crisis in the most-affected regions of the country.
UNICEF is working with the Government, UN agencies and other humanitarian organizations to meet the immediate needs of the displaced families.
“I am impressed with the solidarity of the host community. They have welcomed the refugees and are sharing the little food and water they have,” said Ms. Brandt after visiting the Mangaizé temporary settlement site in Tillabery, approximately 100 km from the Mali-Niger border.
Ms. Brandt commended the leadership and ownership taken by the Government of Niger in responding to the crisis while building resilience to prevent similar emergencies and addressing the needs of those forced to leave their homes and villages.
“Families are doing everything they can to survive and take care of their children,” said Ms. Brandt. “I met brave mothers who travelled days to health centres to get treatment for their children. They do not give up. They need and deserve our support now.”