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Face Of Hunger In Niger

Face Of Hunger In Niger Is Infant, Eyes Closed, With Scarcely Energy To Nurse – UN

New York, Aug 2 2005 3:00PM

A tiny head, eyes closed, lolling above a spine and ribs jutting starkly under the skin exemplifies the face of hunger on the front line of the United Nations-backed war against hunger in Niger today, where 3.5 million people have been affected by the food crisis.

Twenty-one-month-old Salima has barely enough energy to nurse at her mother’s breast for a few seconds before her heads falls back over her shoulders.

Face distraught, her gaunt body sweating in the midday heat, Indo has brought Salima to a UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF)-supported therapeutic feeding centre in Maradi, epicentre of the crisis afflicting this West African nation, the world’s second most impoverished country, following years of drought and the worst invasion of crop-devouring locusts in 15 years.

“It’s been two years that we’ve not been able to grow anything,” Indo says. “It’s because there’s been no rain. We have no food anymore.”

Indo is 28. Her face plainly shows the stress and exhaustion she is struggling with, having walked alone for two days straight from her village, Koumaji, to Maradi. She has carried Salima in her arms the whole way, some 35 kilometres, in the relentless sun. They have had nothing to eat on the way.

Salima is the youngest and the weakest of Indo’s five children. “I have left my other children at home with my mother,” says Indo. “My mother is old and weak but she will have to take care of them. I don’t know how long we’ll have to be here. I think Salima is very sick.

“The only thing I can give her is some millet porridge, maybe one or two times a day. There’s no milk. It’s not enough. I’m scared for Salima,” Indo adds, her voice breaking.

It is not known how many children have already died in Niger’s present crisis but UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland says it is already into the thousands in what was a largely preventable disaster had the world paid attention when the alarm was first raised in November, before neglected emergency turned into full-blown catastrophe.

“The world has finally woken up, but it took graphic images of dying children for this to happen,” he told a news briefing in Geneva 12 days ago as long-sought funding finally began to materialize. Even so the UN, which has already doubled the amount it is seeking immediately to $30.7 million, says it will be revising it upwards again.

This is not much money; in fact it is only 20 minutes of the world’s military spending, Mr. Egeland added, and it is for the 800,000 malnourished children of Niger and the 2.5 million people living on less than one meal a day.

As for Salima, it seems she has arrived in time. She is now getting the care and assistance she needs at the overworked therapeutic feeding centre run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

It is filled with hundreds of other children, many of whom were in even worse condition than Salima when they arrived. The children here are fortunate: they are now on the road to recovering from severe malnutrition.

UNICEF Niger is assisting in providing 10 such fixed therapeutic feeding centres and 21 outreach therapeutic centres with essential supplies, including therapeutic milk and food, essential drugs, oral rehydration salts and deworming tablets.


© Scoop Media

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