Children and women in Niger are bearing the brunt
of this year's food security crisis.
The crisis was brought on by a combination of drought
and locust infestation during the 2004 growing season.
In many villages of the Maradi Region in southern
Niger, the lack of food has sent children begging
on the streets.
For the past two months, eleven-year-old Souleymane
Mahamane has lived on Maradi’s city streets, sleeping
at the bus station with only a thin piece of cardboard
to protect him from the cold cement benches he lies
on. He begs for his midday meal. In the evenings,
he joins several other street children working for
a woman who sells rice and sauce at the bus station.
The boys serve the meals and wash the dishes. In exchange,
they get to eat the leftover food scraped from customers’
plates. The woman often rewards each of the boys with
100 to 150 Communauté Financière Africaine francs
($0.20 to $0.30) for their evening’s work.
Souleymane had left his village, Malamawa, for the
city as hunger pangs in his empty stomach became increasingly
unbearable. “Sometimes we went for two weeks without
preparing a meal,” he says. “I couldn't live like
that,” the boy continues. “I was hungry all of the
time. So one day, I started walking toward Maradi.”
He didn’t know anybody in the city, but he felt that
conditions had to be better than those back home.
In the village of Angoual Mata, not far from Souleymane's
hometown, women are conspicuously absent. When asked
where all the women have gone, a villager says they
are out looking for leaves to feed their families.
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 (April through
September) - the months when food stocks are at their
lowest and farmers need extra strength to plant and
cultivate their crops.
UNICEF is providing US$222,000 (116 million francs
CFA) worth of therapeutic food and growth monitoring
equipment to the Nigerien Government to strengthen
efforts by the Government and other partners involved
in managing the food and nutrition crisis affecting
the most vulnerable groups in Niger -- particularly
“In January 2005,” said Aboudou Karimou Adjibadé,
“UNICEF began taking proactive measures to respond
to the inadequate rainfall and the locust attacks
that devastated the 2004 agricultural season, by initiating
contacts with donors both in Niger and in Europe to
come to the aid of the people, especially the children,
who are victims of the food crisis.”
To address this emergency, Niger’s Office of Crisis
Prevention and Management is coordinating the activities
of the national government and development partners.
UNICEF collaborates with WFP, FAO, and NGOs working
in this field (Médecins Sans Frontière, BALD, World
Vision and Plan International). The United Nations
agencies have launched an emergency appeal to the
international community for US $16 million. The funds
gathered so far are still largely insufficient to
adequately respond to the crisis. Recently the head
of Niger’s government also sent out a “distress call”
to the international community for emergency food
UNICEF has already delivered 229 tons of grain to
the hardest-hit areas. Health facilities in the most
affected regions have received part of the therapeutic
food. Additional grain and therapeutic food are being
ordered. UNICEF’s assistance to Nigerien children
has reached nearly US $1 million. Almost a third of
this amount was collected through the support of the
Belgian, French and Finnish National Committees for
Because malnutrition affects 40% of children in Niger
even when harvests are good, UNICEF sets up community-based
prevention strategies like cereal banks. Each bank
receives an initial stock of 10 tons of millet, which
is placed under community management. The stock makes
grain available at affordable prices during the lean
season, between July and October, when families have
exhausted their food supplies and the new crops have
not yet been harvested. Consequently, 245 cereal banks
have been opened in UNICEF intervention zones. The
2004 grain deficits prevented communities from restocking
their cereal banks.
At this time, some 800,000 children are malnourished,
150,000 of whom show signs of acute malnutrition.
According to official estimates, 3,815 villages, or
approximately 3.3 million people are directly affected
by the current food crisis. In supplementary feeding
centres, admissions of severely malnourished children
are growing at alarming rates.
UNICEF intends treat 30,000 severely malnourished
children and make grain available to 327,000 people
in the most affected communities, which will require
a budget of US $2,048,000. Currently, UNICEF is still
seeking US $1,095,000 of that total to complete the
amount already invested.
Niger’s population is estimated at 11.5 million inhabitants.
According to UNDP, the country is ranked second to
last in the Human Development Index. More than two
thirds of the population lives on less than US $1
per day. One child in four dies before his or her