Niger food crisis increases child deaths

One in four Niger children die before the age of five

NIAMEY/GENEVA - 12 July 2005 - Acute malnutrition rates have risen to 13.4 per cent in southern Niger Maradi and Zinder Regions, with 2.5 per cent of this group identified as severely malnourished children under age five, says UNICEF quoting recent nutrition surveys by the UN and several NGOs.

The food shortage impacts some 3.3 million people-including 800,000 children under age five-in some 3,815 villages. Officials estimate cereal deficits at 223,448 tons and livestock feed deficits at 4,642,219 tons.

At UNICEF-supported therapeutic feeding centres, admissions are rising exponentially. They are at least twice as high as those registered last year for the same period.

The response to this crisis should not, however, divert attention from the fact that Niger is in a persistent state of "silent emergencies" in essential areas such as health, nutrition, education and access to water.

Under the best of circumstances, 40 per cent of Niger's children-or one million-suffer some form of malnutrition. This number has increased dramatically because of the current food shortage. During Niger's 2004 agricultural season, swarms of desert locusts consumed nearly 100 per cent of the crops in some parts of the country. In other areas, insufficient rainfall resulted in poor harvests and dry pastures affecting both farmers and livestock breeders.

Nigerien families practice subsistence farming, growing enough food to sustain themselves until the next harvest, creating a situation of structural malnutrition.

Although rains began early this year and have fallen regularly, giving hope for a better agricultural season, relief will not come before the harvest in October. Villagers are just now entering into the critical period known as the lean season-the months when food stocks are at their lowest. It is also the moment when farm workers need more energy to cultivate their fields, because most of the labour is manual.

In January 2005, through early warning preparedness, UNICEF began taking proactive measures which continue to make a difference:

  • Delivery of more than 41 tons of therapeutic milk and 1.5 tons of Plumpy'nut® to treat children with acute severe malnutrition in 31 therapeutic feeding centres operated by UNICEF partners.

  • Provision of 614 tons of grain has reached 62 of the most affected villages, benefiting an estimated 198,000 inhabitants, including 40,000 children under the age of five.

  • Strengthening of community-based growth monitoring teams in their efforts to identify and prevent malnutrition.

  • Training of health agents in therapeutic nutrition protocol.

UNICEF has allocated a total of US $1,235,400 to treat children with severe and acute malnutrition, and to reduce the effects of household food insecurity. The Finnish, French, German and Belgian National Committees for UNICEF have donated US $541,000 toward this amount. Additional funds of US $812,600 are needed so that UNICEF and its partners can provide short-term responses to the nutritional needs of children in Niger.

While responding to this urgent situation, UNICEF maintains its intermediate- and long-term vision for sustainable development.

"The international community and donors must understand that this current crisis comes on top of an ongoing structural crisis which in 2004 was exacerbated by insufficient rainfalls and locust infestations," said Mr. Adjibade, UNICEF Representative. "Substantial investments are needed over the long term so that the 61 per cent of Nigeriens living on less than one dollar a day might escape the vicious cycle of misery and meet their children's basic needs for nutrition, health and education."

Niger's population is estimated at 11.5 million inhabitants. The country holds the second highest under-five mortality rate in the world (263/1000) - 1 out of four children die before reaching the age of five. Only 48 per cent of the population has access to primary health care.

For more information, please contact:

In Niger: Natalie Fol, Communication Officer + 227 72 30 08

In Geneva: Damien Personnaz, Media Officer + 41 22 9095716