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February 22, 2010

UN says Millions of People in Niger Need Food Aid

The World Health Organization reports millions of people in Niger are going hungry and tens of thousands are malnourished, many of them children. The U.N. agency says it needs more than $650,000 to provide emergency nutritional feeding for thousands of acutely malnourished children under age five.  

Niger is one of the most impoverished countries in the world.  It suffers from chronic food shortages.  A survey carried out by the World Health Organization in December found 2.7 million people or one-in-five households are severely food insecure.

WHO spokesman Paul Garwood says the survey also shows more than five million additional people are moderately food insecure. "More than half the population is estimated to have less than two months worth of food stocks to survive until the next harvest in October," he said.  

"In the first six weeks of 2010, nearly 29,000 cases of global acute malnutrition were reported.  And, of these, 15,370 were cases of moderate acute malnutrition and more than 13,000 cases were of severe acute malnutrition," he continued.  

Garwood says acute malnutrition affects more than 12 percent of children under age five.  He says the World Health Organization is working with the government on issues related to the food security crisis, strengthening food reserves, and combating iodine deficiency.

He notes the collaboration between the World Health Organization and health authorities in Niger is unaffected by the recent military coup that toppled the previous government. "The malnutrition and food insecurity situation dated back months if not years in this country.  So, it is really unrelated to the coup," he said.  

"The work that WHO has been doing in Niger with authorities pre-dated the recent political events in that country and we still have an active office inside the country.  We are able to work with the same kind of counterparts, the same kinds of officials who had been working within the ministry to continue these life-saving interventions," he added.  

Last Friday, military officers overthrew President Mamadou Tandja, who held the reins of power in Niger for more than a decade.  The new leaders have suspended Niger's constitution and all state institutions have been dissolved.