Niger food crisis: Pay or die

MSF Niger Report on the Niger situation "This emergency is not taken seriously enough and if nothing is done before November, everyone will have to answer for it," explained Emmanuel Drouhin, head of MSF programmes in Niger.

Tens of thousands of children are suffering from malnutrition in Niger. Many of these are in a grave situation and are in danger of dying without urgent medical care. According to a nutritional survey by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)/Epicentre, in the villages to the north of Maradi and Tahoua, the emergency threshold for the mortality of children under five years of age (2 deaths/10 000/day) has been exceeded for the past two months.

This is not a natural catastrophe; this is a serious nutritional crisis which has been forecast for a long time. In spite of this, aid is still being delayed. But there is still time to react.

"There is still time to avoid thousands of deaths in both Niger and elsewhere in the Sahel this summer. Today, there are easy to use nutritional products for children which can save lives with just a few weeks of treatment," explained Jean-Hervé Bradol, President of MSF in France, during a press conference today.

It is essential that three measures are taken immediately:

  • The free distribution of food, some of which must be adapted for the needs of children
  • Free access to care for children under five years of age
  • The mobilisation of other emergency organizations

Since January, MSF has admitted over 9,000 children into its treatment programmes for severe malnutrition in the provinces of Maradi and Tahoua. The numbers are still on the increase.

In June, more than 1,000 children have been admitted each week into the programmes in Maradi, Dakoro, Keita and Tahoua.

Until October, with the shortage of food before the harvest and the greater levels of disease during the rainy season, thousands more children will succumb to severe malnutrition if they are not able to obtain food aid and free medical care.

The food security system, co-managed by the government and donors, has pledged to bring aid to this population through free distribution of food and other necessary goods in case of a nutritional crisis. While the serious nature of this crisis was recognized in October, by June, food aid was still insufficient in volume and not free of charge. As such, it is still inaccessible for a section of the population.

The measures taken are absolutely not in line with the needs. At the beginning of June, the Prime Minister of Niger, Hama Amadou, pledged to allocate free healthcare to malnourished children. This has still not been put in place on the ground.

At the end of June, a free distribution of food aid supplied by Arab states began for more than 1.6 million women and children. This measure can only be effective if it is reinforced by several thousand more tons of food from donors. Until now, the reticence of donors and the government concerning the free distribution of food has blocked an adequate response to the situation.

"This emergency is not taken seriously enough and if nothing is done before November, everyone will have to answer for it," explained Emmanuel Drouhin, head of MSF programmes in Niger.

MSF expects to care for more than 20,000 severely malnourished children this year. This is twice the figure of 2004. It is also one of our biggest nutritional operations for 30 years. MSF alone cannot deal with this emergency. Only a faster and more significant reaction from the donors, the government of Niger and other NGOs can limit the effects of this catastrophe. There are only a few weeks left to save thousands of lives in Niger.