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At a glance: Niger

Food aid helps Malian refugees in Niger get through difficult times and tackle alarming malnutrition rates

With malnutrition rates in Mangaize refugee camp, Niger, well above average, UNICEF and partners have rolled out a wet-feeding programme targeting children under 5 – one offensive in a package of measures designed to help the most vulnerable.

UNICEF correspondent Priyanka Pruthi reports on Malian refugees in Niger who are pushed to their limits in one of the poorest countries of the world - fighting harsh conditions and hunger to survive.


By Shushan Mebrahtu

MANGAIZE, Niger, 14 February 2013 – It is around midday at Mangaize refugee camp in the Niger, about 50 km south of the Malian border. Children are arriving at a feeding centre for their ration of nutritious cereal. Some are accompanied by their mothers, others by senior family members.

Aisha, 2, Ibrahim, 3, and Hamoud, 4, wait with their mother, Fatima Khalil. Ms. Khalil and Aisha entered the camp in early 2012,  having fled the fighting in northern Mali.

In January 2013, as the situation in Mali continued to deteriorate, with Islamist groups fighting French and Chadian forces, Ibrahim, Hamoud and their father fled. They were reunited with Aisha and Ms. Khalil in Mangaize camp two weeks ago. 

Outside feeding centre B, one of three soup kitchen-style wet-feeding centres in the camp, a woman welcomes Aisha, Ibrahim, Hamoud and about 400 other children, all of whom are under the age of 5. She washes their hands and seats them on a plastic mat.

In the kitchen, some women stand over large pans, boiling the thin porridge of nutritious cereals. Others fill cups with the gruel and walk over to the children and hand them out. The children sip their cereal, some with a spoon, assisted by their mothers. Others hold the bowls up to their mouths.

“My kids are happy to come here because they know they will be fed,” says Ms. Khalil.

© UNICEF Niger/2013
A refugee woman sitting next to the essential supplies she just received . Newly arrived refugees in the Mangaize camp receive mat, blanket, jerry cans, soap, kitchen set, mosquito net, bucket and plastic sheeting.

A coordinated offensive against malnutrition and disease

The wet-feeding programme, supported by UNICEF in collaboration with UNHCR and WFP, targets all children under 5 who are at risk of malnutrition.

“We have noticed a high rate of malnutrition in the Mangaize camp,” says Abdoulkader Alassane, Nutritionist at Islamic Relief, UNICEF’s partner NGO running the programme on the ground. “This is the reason we started this activity.” 

Nearly 1,200 children under 5 are currently in the programme in Mangaize camp. Meals are served daily at 8:00, 13:00 and 17:00. A team of 90 trained women, most of them refugees, prepare and serve meals and mobilize parents to bring their children to the centres.

Lack of adequate calorie intake coupled with poor healthcare and other services has left many refugee children vulnerable to disease and malnutrition. Aisha is one of them. “Before she was admitted to the feeding programme, my daughter used to get always sick,” recalls Ms. Khalil. “Now, thanks God, she feels well.”

© UNICEF Niger/2013
In order to address the critical malnutrition levels in camps, UNICEF and its partners launched a three- month wet-feeding programme in January 2013. The intervention is a part of package of measures including provision of access to clean water and sanitation services, and improving access to health care to the most vulnerable, particularly children.

Package of measures for the most vulnerable

A survey conducted in July 2012 of children under 5 living in refugee camps revealed a higher rate of malnutrition among those children than among those living in host villages. The rate of global acute malnutrition in Mangaize camp was 21.1 per cent – well above the national rate of 14.8 per cent, and higher than the emergency alert level of 15 per cent. Prevalence of severe acute malnutrition was 7.2 per cent, compared to a 3 per cent national rate.

UNICEF and its partners launched the three-month wet-feeding programme in January 2013. The intervention is a part of package of measures including provision of access to clean water and sanitation services, promotion of good hygiene practices, active malnutrition screening and improved access to healthcare for the most vulnerable, particularly children. 

The wet-feeding programme is also a gateway to educating mothers on good child care, feeding and hygiene practices. After each meal, Islamic Relief social workers conduct awareness-raising sessions. “Here, they teach us how to keep the children clean, how to wash their hands with soap, how to clean their clothes and look after our house so that we don’t get sick,” says Ms. Khalil.  

Ms. Khalil says that her family would return to Mali only if their security were assured. For now, though, “My children and I are safe here,” she says.

For more information see the report: UNICEF Mali: Supporting Women and Children Through an Emergency



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