32,000 children in Niger face 'mortal threat'

UNICEF appeals to the world community for an additional US$14.6 million to save children's lives in Niger
Niamey/Geneva/New York - 29 July 2005 - UNICEF has issued an additional emergency appeal for US$14.6 million to care for 32,000 children suffering from severe under-nutrition and 160,000 children suffering from moderate under-nutrition in Niger and to help stop a deadly cycle of starvation.

3.6 million people in Niger have been made vulnerable by the current crisis - including 800,000 children under five years of age. Of these children, 160,000 are moderately under-nourished and 32,000 are severely under-nourished. Admissions at UNICEF-supported therapeutic feeding centers in Niger are rising, with more than twice as many children requiring care than during the same time period last year.

"The situation of children in Niger is critical and we are in a race against time to save their lives," said Aboudou Karimou Adjibade, UNICEF Niger Representative. "Children are arriving at therapeutic feeding centers barely clinging to their lives. While there is a high recovery rate for those children who are treated, for some, it is too late. Thousands more children need life-saving assistance now, and with the appropriate resources, we will be able to save lives."

The international community has been warning of impending famine ever since a locust plague in 2004 and dry conditions in the affected areas of Niger ruined almost all the crops. Household stores and seed banks were depleted, animals died, and market prices soared. Aid agencies have been scaling up services throughout 2005, in response to the emerging disaster.

In addition to providing therapeutic and supplementary food for severely and moderately under-nourished children, UNICEF is working to: supply essential drugs, vaccines, mosquito nets, vitamin A supplements and iron and folic acid supplements (critical interventions as under-nourished children are particularly susceptible to illness); establish additional therapeutic feeding centers; train health workers in the management of severe under-nutrition; train and support community-based anthropometric assessments and promotion teams to identify under-nourished children early and make referrals to therapeutic and supplementary feeding programs; counseling mothers, care-givers and community resource persons in essential child feeding, particularly exclusive breastfeeding, and development and protection principles; restock 150 cereal banks and train communities in their management; distribute garden seeds to women's groups; provide water/sanitation kits for families of under-nourished children and train families in basic water purification and storage; amongst other activities.

The country has been in a state of ongoing silent emergency in essential areas such as health, nutrition and access to water and also has the second-highest under-five mortality rate in the world, with one in four children dying before reaching age five.

While responding on an emergency basis to this crisis, it is critical to continue intermediate and long-term measures for sustainable development and to equip Nigeriens to meet their children's basic needs for health, nutrition, protection and water/sanitation. UNICEF's activities, including the training of government health workers, local communities and families in these areas are essential to achieving this.

Without immediate and large-scale action, the food crisis is threatening to spread throughout the region, including neighboring countries like Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. UN teams in these countries are closely monitoring the situation to help prevent the Niger crisis from repeating itself elsewhere in the region.

UNICEF issued an appeal for Niger in April of $1.35 million, so with this request for funding, the total stands at nearly $16 million.

Donations can be made online at UNICEF is funded entirely by voluntary contributions from individuals, businesses, foundations, schools, associations and governments.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Niger: Kent Page, Regional Communication Officer; tel: (227) 722-840 or (227) 532-129

Geneva: Damien Personnaz, Communication Officer; tel: +41 22 909 5716 or mob: +41 79 216 94 01

New York: Gordon Weiss, Emergency Communication Officer, 1-212-326-7426

Note to broadcasters: B-roll footage of affected children in Niger is available free of charge at (keyword UNICEF).

Kate Donovan, Media Section, UNICEF, New York ,telephone number: 212-326-7452, fax. 212 326 7768