United Nations agencies are urging the international community to mobilize resources to boost child nutrition in Niger in the wake of new Government data that shows that the situation has deteriorated in the last 12 months.
Nearly half of Niger’s 7.1 million people are currently affected by acute food shortages caused by prolonged drought and crop failure in West Africa’s arid Sahel region.
An annual survey on child nutrition, released yesterday by the National Institute for Statistics, found that the global acute malnutrition rate in Niger has reached nearly 17 per cent for children under the age of five, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) said in a news release.
This level is far above the 15 per cent warning threshold and the 12.3 per cent rate estimated in 2009, the agencies noted, adding that in certain regions, such as Diffa and Maradi, the rates have reached 22.1 per cent and 19.7 per cent respectively, as against 17 per cent and 13.1 per cent last year.
“The emergency threshold has been largely exceeded, the children are going through an extremely difficult time and we are very concerned. We have to reinforce immediately our interventions to limit diseases and losses of human life,” said Guido Cornale, UNICEF Director in Niger.
“An acceleration of preventive and curative actions for malnourished children is ongoing. Donors’ support is crucial at this stage,” he added.
Both UNICEF and WFP are carrying out major preventive and curative activities for children suffering from global acute malnutrition, expanding their operations beyond the existing emergency plans.
The focus is on protecting children and pregnant and lactating women from malnutrition, as well as providing treatment to children suffering from acute, severe, and moderate malnutrition.
“The immediate priority for WFP is to gather all available resources to ensure ameliorated food assistance for beneficiaries from now to December 2010,” said Richard Verbeeck, WFP Director in Niger. “The quality and the extent of our operations will depend on the donors’ commitment to attenuate the suffering of populations in Niger.”
UNICEF will also be launching a communication campaign in the coming weeks to promote exclusive maternal breastfeeding until six months to protect infants and young children against malnutrition.
Humanitarian agencies have so far received 46 per cent of the $190 million they requested in April to enable them to respond to the crisis in Niger. UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes has noted that, with adequate resources, they are better prepared to respond to the crisis than they were in 2005 when the country experienced another serious food crisis.