Although humanitarian aid to Niger has saved the lives of tens of thousands of ill-fed children, the nutritional situation remains alarming with more than 15 in 100 youngsters suffering from acute malnutrition, according to a United Nations-backed survey.
Concerns persist despite a good harvest and pastoral season in late 2010, and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the Government are calling on the international community to intensify its efforts and mobilize all means necessary to fight against child malnutrition and its structural causes.
“The magnitude of resources used and efforts made by all humanitarian actors and donors have saved the lives of tens of thousands of children,” UNICEF Country Representative Guido Cornale said. “This mobilization has stabilized the nutritional status of children, but this is far from enough.
“Each week, thousands of sick children continue coming to health centres, demonstrating once again that we must resolutely confront the underlying causes of malnutrition in Niger.”
The prevalence of global acute malnutrition among children under five years of age in the West African country decreased from 16.7 per cent to 15.5 per cent between June and November, but remains above the emergency threshold of 15 per cent. The situation remains worrisome for those aged six to 23 months, with over a quarter affected.
Severe acute malnutrition, which dramatically increases the risk of death for the under-five age group, has affected 7 per cent of children in the under-two year age category, and is present in 3.2 per cent of the under-five group, according to the findings of this new survey.
These figures reveal not only the severity of the food and nutrition crisis in 2010, but also the speed and quality of the response implemented by the Government and its partners, UNICEF said in a news release.
Between January and December, 313,000 children under five with severe acute malnutrition were treated though public health facilities supported by UNICEF and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Some 38,000 children were hospitalized and 275,000 received outpatient treatment. These numbers represent one-fifth of all children treated for this condition worldwide.
In addition, the Government, WFP, UNICEF and NGOs helped 686,000 children under two to receive adapted food rations between July and December to prevent malnutrition among children living in 38 food-insecure districts. Niger is made up of 42 districts.
A consolidation of resources and measures for preventing and treating child malnutrition are crucial, with a speedy application of structural policies in health, education, social welfare, agriculture, and food security to avoid the disastrous consequences of climatic shocks on people in the sub-Saharan Sahel region, who are highly vulnerable to crises and epidemics.
For WFP Country Representative Richard Verbeeck the survey shows that the response has been appropriate, but it must not lag.
“Without the concerted actions of the humanitarian community and the Government of Niger, malnutrition rates would have been disastrous,” he said. “The battle against malnutrition is far from over and we must continue our efforts for a permanent and lasting solution to this problem.”
In October Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos visited Niger during a trip to focus world attention on the Sahel, which is home to the poorest countries on Earth, with over 10 million people suffering from a food crisis this year alone.
She called for solutions to tackle the root causes of cyclical food crises in the region. “Over the years, we have become very good at responding to immediate needs,” she said. “We now need to become good at building bridges between emergency relief and development.”