ROME – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today announced that it is scaling up operations in the drought-hit West African country of Niger in the light of a shocking new government survey showing malnutrition rates among young children at emergency levels.
“We’re doubling the size of our operations and ramping up already significant interventions, to take even swifter action to protect these children,” said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran, adding that there had been a steep deterioration of the situation in recent weeks.
At the government’s request, WFP is already providing vital food assistance to some 2.3 million people for the summer lean season, when food is scarce. But now WFP plans a new emergency operation that will reach an additional two million people and will specifically target more children aged 6 to 23 months to boost their nutrition.
Last week the government’s annual child nutrition survey revealed that the global acute malnutrition rate for the whole country had reached 16.7 percent for children under five, compared to 12.3 percent in 2009. The World Health Organization (WHO) considers anything over 15 percent an emergency. In areas badly affected by the drought, such as Diffa, Maradi, Zinder and Tahoua, one in five children in this age group is malnourished.
To ramp up operations on this scale, WFP estimates it will need an extra US$100 million.
Households with children under two will receive both specialist supplementary feeding products to boost nutrition and a general ration of staple foods. The idea is to make sure the children receive the nutritional products designed for them and to avoid the nutritional benefit being diluted by being divided among family members. Taking this “protective ration” of staple foods into account, the agency will target more than 4.5 million people, almost double the number of beneficiaries it planned to feed in Niger in 2010.
In addition, WFP plans to increase the number of malnourished pregnant women and nursing mothers it is feeding, up from 24,000 to 105,000. It also proposes to provide food assistance to carers who bring severely malnourished children long distances to therapeutic feeding centres.
Situation in Neighbouring Chad
Poor harvests, erratic rainfall and high food prices have hit countries throughout the Eastern Sahel, including neighbouring Chad. The number of people categorised as "food insecure" in the Sahelian belt of Chad increased from 41 percent of the population in May 2009 to 61 percent in March 2010. WFP is responding with general food distributions to some 850,000 vulnerable people and assistance to pregnant women, nursing mothers and moderately malnourished children in supplementary feeding centres. The number of centres open went up from 36 in March to 52 in June and this figure is expected to increase to around 140 in the coming weeks.