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Niger food shortages threatening Children, UNICEF calls for urgent funding

Locusts, poor rainfall wreaking havoc on crops

GENEVA/NIAMEY, 22 April 2005 – UNICEF today called for urgent funding to feed 800,000 children between under five years of age caught in the throes of a food crisis due to an ongoing plague of locusts  and insufficient rainfall.

This crisis is having a devastating effect on children’s health because even under the best of circumstances, the rate of malnutrition is an alarming 40 per cent. Today, an estimated 750,000 children suffer from hunger, including 150,000 who show signs of severe malnutrition.

In light of this emergency, UNICEF Niger has routed an additional US$ 270,000 to treat 14,000 malnourished children for six months.

However, the children’s agency urgently needs USD 1.03 million to treat another 17,000 severely malnourished children with therapeutic food - a peanut butter based food called plumpynut and therapeutic milk) for six months, and make cereal accessible to another 163,000 people through the purchase of 641 tons to restock 65 cereal banks.

During the 2004 agricultural season, swarms of desert locusts consumed nearly 100 per cent of the crops in some areas. In addition, parts of the country received insufficient rainfall resulting in poor harvests and dry pasturelands affecting both farmers and livestock breeders.
The FAO estimates that in 3,815 villages, 3.6 million people—including 800,000 children between birth and five years of age—are directly affected by the current crisis. While many of these children are already counted among the 40% who routinely suffer from
structural malnutrition, evidence indicates that increasing numbers have been added to the ranks of the severely malnourished.

At the UNICEF-supported Supplementary Feeding Centre (CRENI), operated by Médecins Sans Frontières at Maradi’s Regional Hospital in southern Niger, admissions are rising exponentially, with more than twice as many admissions this year than in 2004.

Many families count on cereal banks to make grain accessible and affordable in the villages; however, most cereal banks in the affected areas are severely depleted. Those who took out grain loans last year were unable to repay them because of the poor harvest.

For most families, migration to urban areas or neighbouring countries is the only solution.

On a regular basis, UNICEF implements strategies to prevent malnutrition at the community level.  Here are some examples:

  • 245 cereal banks were opened in UNICEF’s intervention zones to make staple grains (millet and sorghum) available. Before harvest, when food supplies are low and hunger increases, cereal banks loan food to mothers. After harvest, the women repay their loans in cash or grain.
  • UNICEF also supports 300 women’s groups that promote exclusive breastfeeding and monitor children’s growth in the villages. Women with malnourished children receive loans of goats to enrich their families’ diets with milk and cheese.
  • Twice a year, vitamin A supplements are provided to all children under the age of five years. Supplementary feeding centres receive therapeutic food for severely malnourished children. 

With the amount of therapeutic food that UNICEF has already purchased, 14,000 malnourished children are receiving treatment. Additional funds will allow UNICEF to treat another 17,000 children during the six months.

Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world. UNDP’s Human Development and Human Poverty Indices rank it 173rd out of 174 countries. 61.4 per cent of the population lives on less than US$ 1 per day. The estimated population is 11.5 million.
For further information, please contact :
Natalie Fol, UNICEF, Niger, Tel: + 227 72 37 24 / 72 30 08,  nfol@unicef.org
Damien Personnaz, UNICEF Media, Geneva, Tel +4122 909 57 16, dpersonnaz@unicef.org




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