Niger needs long term assistance to avoid chronic food insecurity

According to recent nutrition surveys by the United Nations and some non-governmental agencies, acute malnutrition rates have risen to 13.4 percent in southern Niger's Maradi and Zinder Regions. A food shortage is impacting some 3.3 million people - including 800,000 children under age five - in some 3,815 villages.

However, UNICEF is maintaining that the response to this crisis should not divert attention from the fact that Niger is in a persistent state of "silent emergencies" in essential areas such as health, nutrition, education and access to water.

"The international community and donors must understand," said UNICEF Representative Karim Adjibade, "that this current crisis comes on top of an ongoing structural crisis which in 2004 was exacerbated by insufficient rainfalls and locust infestations. Substantial investments are needed over the long term so that the 61 percent of Nigeriens living on less than one dollar a day might escape the vicious cycle of misery and meet their children's basic needs for nutrition, health and education."

With an estimated population of 11.5 million inhabitants, Niger holds the second highest under-five mortality rate in the world (263/1000) - one out of four children die before reaching the age of five. Only 48 percent of the population has access to primary health care.

Under the best of circumstances, 40 percent of Niger's children - or one million - suffer some form of malnutrition. This number has increased dramatically because of the current food shortage. During Niger's 2004 agricultural season, swarms of desert locusts consumed nearly 100 percent of the crops in some parts of the country. In other areas, insufficient rainfall resulted in poor harvests and dry pastures affecting both farmers and livestock breeders.

Nigerien families practice subsistence farming, growing enough food to sustain themselves until the next harvest, creating a situation of structural malnutrition.

Although rains began early this year and have fallen regularly, giving hope for a better agricultural season, relief will not come before the harvest in October. Villagers are just now entering into the critical period known as the lean season - the months when food stocks are at their lowest. It is also the moment when farm workers need more energy to cultivate their fields, because most of the labor is manual.

In January 2005, through early warning preparedness, UNICEF began taking proactive measures which continue to make a difference:

  • Delivery of more than 41 tons of therapeutic milk and 1.5 tons of Plumpy'nut(R) to treat children with acute severe malnutrition in 31 therapeutic feeding centers operated by UNICEF partners.
  • Provision of 614 tons of grain has reached 62 of the most affected villages, benefiting an estimated 198,000 inhabitants, including 40,000 children under the age of five.
  • Strengthening of community-based growth monitoring teams in their efforts to identify and prevent malnutrition.
  • Training of health agents in therapeutic nutrition protocol.

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