Extrapolating from a survey conducted in two areas of Niger hard hit by locust infestation and scanty rains, a United Nations agency estimates that nearly 350,000 children younger than 5 could be suffering from malnutrition, with the risk of stunted growth.
The study in the Zinder and Maradi regions of the West African nation suggests that 346,000 children could suffer from malnutrition this year, with 63,000 of them suffering severely, the World Food Programme (WFP) said in the capital, Niamey.
"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," it said.
As a result, an unusually large number of people have abandoned the countryside and migrated to urban centres in search of work, while others have moved their livestock into agricultural areas where the animals could destroy crops and bring on conflict, WFP said. Still others are selling livestock to buy food, or felling trees to make charcoal for sale.
"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 $2.5 million. The only donation to date is a gift of $500,000 from Sweden," it said.