"CRITICAL" MALNUTRITION AMONG CHILDREN IN NIGER
NIAMEY - The United Nations World Food Programme has warned that approximately 350,000 children under five years-old in the West African state of Niger could be suffering from malnutrition according to the results of a survey published today in the capital Niamey.
Results from the targeted group of 1800 children aged between 6 and 59 months in Zinder and Maradi give a global rate for wasting of 13.4 percent of which 2.7 percent of cases in Zinder and 2.2 percent in Maradi are severe.
An extrapolation of these results indicates that as many as 135,700 children under five across the two regions are suffering from malnutrition, with 24,700 of them severe cases in need of urgent medical and nutritional assistance. These figures are in line with the skyrocketing admission numbers observed in recent months at a therapeutic feeding centre run by Médecins sans Frontières in the Maradi region.
The alarming numbers underline the critical need for intervention to tackle what has become an endemic issue in Niger. Furthermore, following a season of poor rains, coupled with the impact of the worst locust invasion in 15 years, the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better. Niger is facing a food deficit of nearly a quarter of a million metric tons this year.
"The situation is critical," said WFP Niger Country Director Gian Carlo Cirri. "Until now we have had no hard evidence to confirm what we have seen with our own eyes - that a disturbing number of people in Niger are struggling to feed themselves and their families properly. We need to act urgently to prevent the situation deteriorating any further."
The survey, undertaken in conjunction with Helen Keller International, focused on the two regions of Zinder and Maradi. It took place in January this year using funds from a Canadian Impact Grant.
The effect of the chronic malnutrition which plagues Niger each year is clearly demonstrated in the survey. The prevalence of stunting, which affects about 61 percent of children in the two regions, also confirms indications in earlier surveys that Niger has a significant on-going and structural malnutrition problem that needs to be addressed.
Most worrying of all is that a nationwide application of the survey results would suggest some 346,600 children could be suffering from malnutrition this year, over 63,000 of them severely so.
The uncertain conditions in Niger following last year's drought and locust invasion are already forcing an abnormally high number of people to abandon the countryside and head to urban centres in search of work. Others have moved their livestock into agricultural areas where the animals may destroy crops and precipitate conflict. The market price for livestock is plummeting as people look to sell animals to buy food, which is itself rising steeply in price. Excessive felling of trees to make charcoal has also been in evidence - another means of raising cash during difficult times.
"These results would normally indicate a people living in a war zone and yet we have not even entered the ‘hunger season', the period each year leading up to the harvest when food is generally scarce," said Cirri.
"The next harvest is not due until the end of the rainy season in September/October so these statistics will only get worse over the next few months unless immediate action is taken," he added.
WFP's emergency operation in Niger to combat the impact of the drought and locust invasion, which runs until the end of August, currently has a shortfall of US$2.5 million. The only donation to date is a gift of US$500,000 from Sweden.
WFP is currently targeting 400,000 people through its emergency operation. A further 620,000 are being assisted in Niger this year through regular development projects such as school feeding, food-for-training, food-for-work, cereal bank and nutrition activities.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency; each year, WFP provides food aid to an average of 90 million people, including 56 million hungry children, in more than 80 countries.
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Gian Carlo Cirri
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