In the west African country of Niger a toxic cocktail of rising food prices, drought, dead or dying livestock and failed crops have conspired to put at risk the lives of 307,000 children. In Niger one in six children don't live to see their fifth birthday. Give the gift of life to malnourished children this Christmas.
Niger is facing a severe food crisis. More than half of Niger’s population (7.8 million people) are in need of urgent emergency assistance.
Thousands of children are at risk of death and will need treatment. 307,000 children under five are at risk of suffering from severe malnutrition. If they don’t receive treatment, thousands of children may.
It was when their stocks of food ran out that Aicha really began to worry for eight month old son Saminou.
“Our stocks ran out two months ago – it was then that I started seeing my child wasn’t well,” said 34-year-old Aicha.
“ I didn’t know what illness he had but I knew he was malnourished. My child used to eat well but I didn’t have enough food to give him. Sometimes we had food and sometimes we had nothing, sometimes for as long as three days.”
Finding help is not always easy. “When I saw my child was sick I carried him to many health centres in Nigeria. Eventually they referred me to Birniguesa clinic in Niger who referred me here (to a stabilisation centre in Aguié),” she said.
In a country where things are traditionally tough at this time of year, poor and erratic rainfall since last year has amplified this, leading to widespread failure of crops and death of livestock. Shortages have become apparent months earlier than normal meaning the hunger families will suffer will be more severe and will last longer, and more people will become malnourished.
Thirty percent of villages in agricultural and agro/pastoral areas didn’t harvest anything during the last harvest. Food imported from the region is available but this food is inaccessible to the people who need it most because the cost of food has risen significantly.
Growing desperation is seeing people resorting to measures that will create more problems in the long term – like only eating once a day, eating ‘famine’ foods (w
ild leaves and berries), selling household items they need, taking children out of school, selling off livestock at reduced rates and moving to urban areas in search of work.
For a people familiar with hardship this is a vicious downward spiral that must be prevented. Niger already has one of the world’s highest under-five child mortality rates – one in six children don’t live to see their fifth birthday, and one woman in seven dies in pregnancy or childbirth.
Aicha understands these statistics first hand.
“I gave birth to eight children but three have died,” she explained. “They all died before they were two. My third-born died six years ago, my fourth-born died four years ago and my sixth-born died two years ago. It makes me very upset thinking about the suffering.”
View a Sky News video and Amy Reed's blog regarding another child called Saminou who unfortunately didn't make it through this crisis.
Dr Morou Arouna saving children's lives in Niger
The response will focus on the most vulnerable children in predominantly rural areas. Save the Children already works in three regions in the south of Niger: Maradi, Zinder and Diffa. In each region we’re working in two districts:
Maradi region- Aguie and Tessaoua.
Zinder region - Matameye and Magaria.
Diffa region - Mainé Soroa and N’Guigmi
Diffa is one of the three most affected regions by the food crisis. However, there are pockets of other regions that are as badly affected. The two districts that Save the Children works in Maradi region are equally as effected (Aguie and Tessaoua). In addition the pre- existing extremely high levels of child malnutrition in Diffa, Zinder and Maradi regions must be taken into account.
Our main areas of focus are:
Nutrition and health: We will be reinforcing and expanding our existing health and nutrition program (treatment of severe cases of malnutrition and strengthening of local health facilities).
Food security and livelihoods: We are preventing hunger and loss of assets for the most vulnerable by providing social protection through cash and food distribution. This involves scaling up and extending our current cash distribution program and a potential food distribution in partnership with WFP).
We’re currently undertaking the following activities:
Nutrition programmes (Aguie, Tessaoua, Matameye, Magaira, Mainé Soroa and N’Guimi)
We support 86 Outpatient Therapeutic Programmes through the Ministry of Health district health centres for severely malnourished children.
The Outpatient Therapeutic Programmes are for severely malnourished children and involve providing children under five specially formulated micronutrient-enriched food, like high-energy peanut paste, that’s ready to use at home.
We train community workers to identify and refer malnourished children in their communities to the Outpatient Therapeutic Programmes. These community workers also follow up on the children after they’ve been treated and disseminate good health and nutrition practice information.
We also work in five Stabilisation Clinics: in Aguie, Tessaoua, Matameye, N’Guigmi and Mainé Soroa. These in-patient clinics are for extreme cases of malnutrition and cases with additional complications.
Mothers staying in the clinics while their child is being treated are provided with food.
As part of these programmes we carry out awareness-raising sessions targeted at mothers about good breast-feeding practices, warning signs of malnutrition and general good health and hygiene practices to help improve their children’s health.
We are carrying out blanket feeding – a distribution of complimentary food to children between 6 and 23 months in Mainé Soroa and N’Guigmi in Diffa region.
Food security and Livelihoods programmes (Aguie, Tessaoua and Magaria)
We have started cash transfer programs in all three districts. This consists of six distributions of cash to each targeted family. The cash is given to households with children under three and is given to women.
The cash transfers are conditional on the recipient taking part in prevention of malnutrition training.
At the national level we work with the national early warning system (Systeme d’Alerte Precoce - SAP) to advocate for improved indicators to be used in research and analysis of the national food security situation.
Health Programmes (Aguie, Tessaoua, Matamaye and Magaira)
We have integrated our health program into the Ministry of Health. We’re providing financial and technical support to District Health teams to provide better healthcare services now and in the long term.
Our health work is targeted at children under five and pregnant and lactating mothers. We are working to increase the number of children under 5 and women of childbearing age using the primary health care services as well as improving the quality of primary health care services for this group.
Our health work is closely integrated with our nutrition activities.
We are strengthening community participation and involvement to support the provision of quality primary health care services