Niger’s Silent Crisis

Source: Vardion (CC)

Source: Vardion (CC)

From the BBC:

Britain’s aid agencies are launching an appeal to help the people of Niger where half the country’s population is going hungry following droughts which have led to crop failures and food shortages.

A listless little boy with stick thin arms and legs is weighed at an emergency treatment clinic for under fives near Maradi in Southern Niger.

Abiou, who is just 13 months old, weighs less than four-and-a-half kilos. His half-closed eyes stare out from sunken sockets set in a head that now looks too big for him.

Doctor Mourou Arouna Djimba says he is now being overwhelmed by youngsters like Abiou. “There’s a massive need here,” he told me.

“We’ve so little room that sometimes we need to put two or even three children in one bed. We’ve got 30 in this intensive ward, and this morning another five more severely malnourished children arrived.”

Save the Children says 400,000 children are at risk of dying from starvation

In the face of the crisis, the charities Save the Children (STC) and Oxfam are each launching multi-million pound appeals for drought-ravaged Niger.

STC says 400,000 of the country’s children are at risk of dying of starvation. This follows the failure of rains last year which led to widespread crop failure, a situation greatly aggravated by soaring food prices which have left many people unable to afford to buy even staple grains like millet.

With the next harvests not due until September many people will have little or nothing to eat until then. In all, half of this landlocked country’s 15 million people are now in need of food aid.

A couple of hours drive east of Maradi, Niger’s third-largest city, around a thousand people, many looking desperate, form long lines outside an emergency feeding centre.

The noise is almost deafening. While they wait under the sweltering sun tempers begin to flare. Some begin pushing at the door and shouting to be let in.

It’s all too much for a middle-aged woman in the crowd who, at one point, struggles to remain on her feet.

When the pushing subsides she tells me how difficult it now is to feed herself and her family. “Last year my crops failed five times,” she explains. “Each time they grew a little… but there was no rain… so they died. I have no food whatsoever. All I can do is look for leaves and herbs to eat.”

When I point out that the leaves she is holding in her hand are unlikely to have much food value in them, she shrugs and replies “That’s right. They have no goodness in them but at least they fill our stomachs.”

Droughts are nothing new in Niger but this one is exceptionally bad. Most insist it is worse than the one five years ago that caused widespread suffering.

In the isolated village of Makanga, around two hours walk from the town of Tanout, the noise of donkeys, goats and chickens fill the air. But with many here now being forced to sell their animals to get money to buy food, such sounds might soon disappear along with the villagers themselves.

A village elder, Musa Haj Haroon, stares at the ground as he tells me: “The only asset I’ve got is my livestock. Every now and then I take two or three goats and go and sell them in the market. This is the only way I can get money to buy food.

“If my livestock runs out we will have to leave this village, there is no other solution. And if the rains are bad again this year everyone will go… and this will become a deserted village.”

Many have left their homes already in search of food. Hani is a fifty year-old mother of eight who has seen five of her children die in recent years. Last month, after her crops failed, she and her family left their village and made their way by foot to the capital, Niamey.

Although it is not the first time that they have been forced to do this following earlier droughts, it was a journey they are unlikely to forget. “We walked for a long way, a very long way. I’m not sure quite how far it was. I have no way of knowing,” she told me.

“At one point I thought we were all going to die on the road. But my children were so hungry. I had no alternative. If we had stayed there I am sure we would all have died.”

And you can also see a gallery of Mike’s photos from Niger.

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  • Sheeplesuck

    Is it that there is not enough food or could it be that there are too many people? Not once was that topic explored and yet if we take a tiny look at birth rates around the world we find that Niger is at the very top. Number one in the entire world. Lets see now 8 babies on average per woman. Yeah that will work forever. Hell why not 20 babies per woman for the next 100 years. There will never be a problem with having the largest birth rate in the world. Its the weathers fault. Stupid weather :(