Malnutrition in Niger

Niger ranks dead last out of 187 countries on the 2014 Human Development Index. With a very high fertility rate and very low life expectancy, Niger exemplifies a country that is in crippling poverty. Its location renders the country landlocked and adjacent to the Sahara Desert, leaving few resources, especially food, available. This leads to severe malnutrition in Niger.

The World Food Programme estimates that there are around 2.5 million people living in Niger that are chronically food-insecure and unable to meet the basic requirements of nutrition even when their agricultural production is at its normal capacity. In 2005 and 2010, agricultural production took hits and the country fell 14 percent short of the usual outcome each time. For a country finding it hard to function at the average level, this was detrimental, especially for the children of Niger.

Children under the age of five are often the most susceptible to opportunistic diseases caused by malnutrition. Diarrhea and skin and respiratory infections are commonly linked to malnutrition. It is estimated that nearly 331,000 children under the age of five in Niger will need to be treated for malnutrition.

UNICEF and the WFP are working together to help alleviate the malnutrition in Niger.

UNICEF is providing a blanket feeding program that is targeted for children and lactating women in the worst affected areas in Niger. One first-hand account of this program is that of a 19-year-old mother and her 19-month-old son.

Hanatou Hassan brought her son, Boubakar, to a feeding center run by UNICEF. The workers said Boubakar was so thin and weak that he couldn’t keep his head up. When admitted, Boubakar was given two nutrient-rich formulas in order to return him to health. After two weeks, Boubakar was able to breastfeed again and was also able to go back to his parents. When the father came to get his son, he said he couldn’t even recognize Boubakar they had done so well with him.

The WFP aims to strengthen the resilience of the chronically vulnerable and at risk communities by ensuring there is a safety net for all the areas that are affected by seasonal periods of constrained access to food. The Under a Protracted Relief and Rehabilitation Operation, or PRRO, created by the WFP, implemented the following programs:

  • Food for Assets activities promoting land regeneration
  • Water harvesting/irrigation activities towards increased local production
  • Year-round Targeted Supplementary Feeding for moderately acute malnourished children ages six-59 months and pregnant/nursing mothers

Niger is in a worrisome state. Its location prevents them from conducting many types of trade and their economic and agricultural systems are very fragile. Through the programs described above, UNICEF and the WFP may be able to take down acute malnutrition in Niger and maybe even all malnutrition in Niger.

Erik Nelson

Sources: World Food Programme,  UNICEF 1,  UNICEF 2, United Nations Development Programme
Photo: The Age