Monday, January 23, 2012

Niger braces itself for year of food and aid emergency

Mark Tran in the Guardian's "globaldevelopment" blog: As Niger braces itself for a food emergency after late and erratic rains last year and a surge in food prices, humanitarian agencies are stepping up malnutrition screening so that children receive swift treatment to prevent permanent damage. It is also much less costly.

At the best of times this vast landlocked country – whose estimated 14.7 million people mostly live along a narrow strip of arable land on its southern border – has trouble feeding itself. Even in "non-crisis" years, 300,000 children are treated for malnutrition – 15% of the world total. This year threatens to be particularly severe.

Humanitarian organisations estimate that 1.3 million people are suffering from acute malnutrition across the Sahel, a belt of countries from Mauritania and Senegal on the Atlantic to Chad in central Africa, taking in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. These countries suffer from chronic food insecurity – families without enough money to meet their food needs – and 300,000 children die in a normal year from malnutrition or its related causes.

Andrew Mitchell, the international development secretary, on Sunday announced emergency aid for the Sahel and urged others to step up efforts. The UK is providing therapeutic food for 68,000 children in Chad, Niger and Mali as well as fodder and vaccinations for livestock. "British support will help those in the most immediate danger but other nations must take up the baton to ensure that the international response is fast and effective," Mitchell said. "We then need to improve conditions for these people to withstand future droughts."...

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