- Drought and a locust attack is now leaving thousands of children in Niger facing malnutrition. According to the World Food Programme (WFP), as many as 350,000 children younger than 5 could now be suffering from malnutrition, with the risk of stunted growth. The UN agency had surveyed two areas of Niger hard hit by locust infestation and scanty rains.
The study was conducted in the Zinder and Maradi of Niger, both close to the Nigerian border. WFP's survey suggests that "346,000 children could suffer from malnutrition this year, with 63,000 of them suffering severely," according to statements by the WFP representative in Niger's capital, Niamey.
Drought and locusts had hit the poor country harder than expected, WFP in Niger noted. "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," the agency said.
As a result, an unusually large number of people had 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 were selling livestock to buy food, or felling trees to make charcoal for sale.
The WFP survey was implemented after the humanitarian group Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) recently had alerted the UN agency of a possible large-scale crisis in development. MSF had observed "skyrocketing admission numbers" during recent months at a therapeutic feeding centre run by the group in the Maradi region.
- The situation is critical, concluded WFP's Niger Country Director Gian Carlo Cirri. "Until now we have had no hard evidence to confirm what we have seen with our own eyes - that a disturbing number of people in Niger are struggling to feed themselves and their families properly. We need to act urgently to prevent the situation deteriorating any further."
Mr Cirri said it was in urgent needs of further funds to handle the crisis. "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 US$ 2.5 million. The only donation to date is a gift of US$ 500,000 from Sweden," WFP said. Now, there was a "critical need for intervention to tackle what has become an endemic issue in Niger," it added.
The effect of the chronic malnutrition which plagues Niger each year had also been demonstrated in the survey. The prevalence of stunting, which affects about 61 percent of children in the two regions, also confirmed indications in earlier surveys that Niger had a significant on-going and structural malnutrition problem that needed to be addressed, according to WFP.
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