A group of children eat their mid-day meal outside a tiny straw hut which serves as a classroom in western Niger. Photo: WFP/Judith Schuler
Drought in Niger has pushed levels of child malnutrition past emergency levels, according to an alarming new government report. In response, WFP is scaling up its operation to provide over 4.5 million people with food assistance, nearly twice as many as it is now.
NIAMEY – Already high levels of child malnutrition in Niger have surged past emergency thresholds amid drought in the African Sahel region, the government’s annual nutrition report revealed last week.
WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran said the situation was deteriorating rapidly and that WFP would scale up operations in response. “We’re doubling the size of our operations and ramping up already significant interventions, to take even swifter action to protect these children,” she said.
Released in the thick of the summer “lean season”, the government’s report showed that rates of acute malnutrition among children under five had risen to 17 percent from 12.3 percent in 2009. The World Health Organization (WHO) considers anything over 15 percent as an emergency.
A severe form of hunger that can leave children permanently underdeveloped, acute malnutrition affects as many as one in five children in the hardest hit regions of Niger, such as Diffa, Maradi, Zinder and Tahoua.
To stem the tide of child malnutrition, the extra food aid will provide households with products tailored to meet the nutritional needs of small children in addition to staple food rations for the rest of the family.
Shielding a greater number of children from malnutrition means feeding a greater number of mothers: WFP will raise the number of malnourished pregnant women and nursing mothers receiving food aid by nearly five-fold from 24,000 to over 105,000.
Crisis in the Sahel
The Sahel is a semi-arid belt of land south of the Sahara Desert that spans the African continent from Senegal in the west to Eritrea in the east. As a result of the drought, some 10 million people in the central part of the Sahel are currently facing hunger in Niger, Cameroon, Mali and Chad. Find out more about what WFP is doing to help them.