Niger Food Crisis: MSF Again Calls for a Rapid Mobilization of Aid Agencies

Nutritional survey in the Zinder region reveals a worsening situation, with little to indicate that the alarming conditions will improve in the near future.

Zinder, Niger, September 13, 2005 – Tens of thousands of children in Niger still require immediate nutritional assistance, according to the international medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). A nutritional and retrospective mortality survey conducted by the group and its research affiliate, Epicentre, in the Zinder region this past August found one in five children suffering from malnutrition. The study revealed an even more critical situation for children less than 30 months old, with nearly one in three malnourished and 5.6% severely malnourished. Just last week, MSF medical teams admitted nearly 1,000 severely malnourished children for treatment in Zinder alone.

Mortality rates in the area for children under the age of five has been 4.1 deaths/10,000 people/day – or more than double the emergency threshold – since the beginning of the crisis in January 2005. The survey also found that the mortality rate rose between April and August 2005, reaching 5.3 deaths/10,000 people/day for this most recent period. Nearly 90% of the families also reported having no more food reserves left.

"Over the past few months, MSF has been alerting the general public and the international community about the rapid deterioration of the nutritional situation in Niger, and the urgent need for the mobilization of all key players," said Christian Captier, General Director of MSF in Switzerland, who is currently in Zinder. "We have now reached the most critical period of the crisis, and realize more and more every day that the emergency response is far from addressing people's needs. Unless children suffering from malnutrition receive massive care, this human disaster will be even more tragic."

Despite an increasing amount of food aid being pledged to the country, thousands of children continue to slip into severe malnutrition. While there has been a growing awareness about the situation over the past months, including a recent visit from Kofi Annan, the urgent needs of people are still not being adequately covered.

Since January 2005, MSF has treated more than 30,000 severely malnourished children at emergency nutritional facilities in and around Maradi, Tahoua, Zinder, Diffa and Tilabéri. Medical teams estimate that they will treat more than 40,000 children for severe malnutrition by the end of the year.