Across the Sahel, more than ten million people are affected by poor rains that have led to the collapse of agricultural and livestock production in many parts of Chad, Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso. In Niger, 60 percent of the population is facing severe food shortages.
At the Karakara II primary school in Niger's southern Mirriah district, women are registering their children for a feeding program for all children between the ages of six months and two years. This will be their first food distribution since last year's poor rains cut Niger's cereal harvest by one-quarter and drove up the price of millet nearly 40 percent.
The United Nations World Food Program is doubling its estimate of the number of families in Niger who need food assistance. WFP is now targeting more than 1.5 million people for a general food distribution and 500,000 children under the age of six for specialized therapeutic feeding.
Djimadoumngar Doumbaye, who heads WFP operations in the regional capital, Zinder, says there are many schools in the region that have fewer students because families have taken their children elsewhere in search of food.
WFP has stocks of rice, sugar, salt, oil and beans in Zinder. But, overall, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says it has less than a third of the $190 million it needs to respond to the crisis in Niger.
Doumbaye says this region is at risk, if other resources are not delivered. He says WFP is ready to address food insecurity here. But, as far as targeted feeding is concerned, the amount of food held by both WFP and the military government's national security stock is insufficient to meet the needs of most of the vulnerable population.
In the Mirriah district, children under two will receive a four-month ration of sugar, oil, and a nutritionally-rich blend of corn and soybeans. This registration also allows aid workers to gauge the level of malnutrition by measuring the size of children's arms.
The program is being run by the local aid group Karkara. Youssifi Midou Bawa is Karkara's director of technical operations.
Bawa says when children come to the center, they are measured to see who is malnourished. Children who are severely or moderately malnourished are then referred to the local medical center where they receive supplemental feeding.
The U.N. children's agency says at least 200,000 children in Niger face severe acute malnutrition that will require hospital treatment.
In a region where malnutrition is affecting more than one-quarter of the population, Bawa says the 50,000 registration cards they have will cover only half of those who need help finding food.