The French humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders (Medcins Sans Frontieres) has warned that a crisis is emerging in southern Niger where the agency has seen a worrying increase in severely malnourished children.
The head of the Doctors Without Borders mission in Niger, Johannes Sekkenes, says that every week between 200 to 250 children are admitted to feeding centers in the Maradi and Tahoua districts of southern Niger, a 300 percent increase from previous years.
Ms. Sekkenes says that the children they are receiving at feeding centers are very, very thin, and suffering from severe malnutrition. She says many of the children are at risk of dying from lack of food if not given immediate medical care.
The humanitarian agency has opened an additional feeding center in Maradi and will open another in Tahoua to try and cope with the numbers of children who need help.
Children suffering from malnutrition have thin arms, but distended bellies as their livers have become enlarged. In extreme cases, the body starts to consume its own tissues, and people acquire a skeletal appearance. Long-term effects of child malnutrition are uncertain, but some children have been known to suffer mental retardation.
Ms. Sekkenes says that she is very pessimistic and does not think that the situation will improve.
She says that Niger is still approaching the season between two harvests when food is normally scarce.
Niger journalist, Ousmane Toudou, says that even in Niger's capital Niamey, people are finding it difficult to afford food, but for people in rural areas it is much worse.
Mr. Toudou says that people in the countryside do not have the means to buy food, and normally they would grow their own.
Harvests last year failed in Niger due to a combination of drought and swarms locusts which ate young, growing crops across the Sahel region. With grain stores depleted and growing food shortages, prices of food in one of the world's poorest countries have dramatically increased.