UN agency triples number needing emergency food in Niger to 1.2 million
With impoverished Niger suffering from a poor rainy season and devastation to its crops and grazing land from the worst locust invasion in 15 years, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today almost tripled the number of people it plans to feed through its emergency operation to 1.2 million.
“Children are dying and adults are going hungry,” WFP Country Director Gian Carlo Cirri, who has been appealing for a rapid response to the worsening food crisis in the West African nation, said. “We have said this before and we are saying it again – Niger needs help today, not tomorrow.”
WFP’s initial response was severely hampered by late funding and difficulties buying food within the region. After widespread coverage of the Niger crisis in the international media, the bulk of WFP’s $4.2 million appeal for 465,000 people was received in the last six weeks, but the agency needs an additional $12 million to cover the rapidly rising costs of the total operation.
“The international community cannot allow Niger to live as if cursed by poverty – we have the means to make a change and we need to mobilize them urgently,” Mr. Cirri said.
Most immediately at risk are young children. Feeding centres run by the non-governmental organization (NGO) Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) are reporting admission rates nearly three times those during the same period last year. With several NGOs now arriving in Niger to start up specialized nutritional programmes, WFP will target free food to mothers accompanying malnourished children to these centres.
Other vulnerable households will also receive free food supplies through targeted general food distributions, already established by the government of Niger and NGOs.
Even in a good year, malnutrition rates amongst young children in Niger are extremely high. Some 82 per cent of the population rely on subsistence farming and cattle rearing, while only 15 per cent of the land is suitable for farming. There is little irrigation, leaving most farmers at the mercy of the rains.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today acute malnutrition rates had risen to 13.4 per cent in the southern Maradi and Zinder Regions, with 2.5 per cent of this group identified as severely malnourished children under age 5.
It noted that the food shortage was having some impact on 3.3 million people, including 800,000 children younger than 5.
“Under the best of circumstances, 40 per cent of Niger’s children – or one million – suffer some form of malnutrition,” it said. “This number has increased dramatically because of the current food shortage.”