Niger: WFP Steps Up Aid As Hunger Crisis Looms

With growing numbers of people going hungry in Niger, one of the poorest countries on Earth, WFP is stepping up food assistance. Mahamadou is one of the beneficiaries. He’s 13 months old and malnourished. But nutritious food supplements are giving him a fighting chance. Video

NIAMEY – Fortified food supplements have given Mahamadou a fighting chance and his mother, Sonia, a sense of hope. But, with the lean season around the corner and food becoming scarcer by the day, she’s worried about what will happen to her son.

Despite its harsh, dry climate, most people in this area survive on subsistence farming. However, the growing season this year saw hardly any rain and the harvest has been poor.

Drought and high food prices have deepened hunger in Niger, pushing some 44% of all children into the ranks of the malnourished. The WFP is trying to help by pre-positioning food in anticipation of the lean season. Niger media backgrounder

Tackling malnutrition

At the supplementary feeding center in Doutchi, where Sonia receives a blend of cereals and vitamins called CSB, the number of malnourished children in need of treatment has risen by half since this time last year.

Gianluca Ferrera, a WFP spokesman in Niger, said that before now, the problem was often overlooked.

“Before 2005, malnutrition was not recognized as a public disease [in Niger], so there was no treatment in place for children...they would treat opportunistic diseases like malaria and diarrhoea, but not malnourishment,” he said.

Major hurdles

Adding to Niger’s challenges, armed groups have been kidnapping aid workers and attacking government targets. Nonetheless, WFP plans to feed 2.4 million people there in collaboration with local officials and NGOs.

To do that, however, Ferrera said that “we need resources now and those funds will be used to purchase cereals in the region that will be delivered to distribution points”.

In Niamey, the capital of Niger, there is food in the market but much of it is imported. The government is now subsidizing the sale of cereals, but not enough to stem the tide of hunger.

Just a few hundred meters from the market, the Madinah clinic is treating 42 children each week, twice as many as it was this time last year. Administrators fear the number could quadruple by May.