News

Famine in Niger Continues, But Aid Pours In

After a delayed reaction from the international community, funding to combat a famine in Niger is finally beginning to arrive.  But in the landlocked country's most heavily affected areas, there is little sign the crisis is abating, and some aid workers say things will likely get worse before they improve.

There is not enough room under the protective awning just inside the entrance of aid agency Doctors Without Borders' emergency feeding center in Maradi. The organization has had to build an additional shelter outside. And still, many of the several hundred women and small children waiting to be admitted to the facility huddle together in what shade they can find, the sparse trees or the shadow of the camp's office.

Medical staff here use a triage system, looking for the worst cases of malnutrition among the youngest, most vulnerable children, and bringing them in, one at a time, for an initial medical exam.

Since the beginning of the year, the medical relief organization, known by its French acronym MSF, has treated more than 14,000 severely malnourished children in Niger. This year, the doctors say they expect to treat more than three times as many children as they did in Sudan's war wracked Darfur region in all of 2004.

Laure Souley has come here with her three-year-old daughter and an infant son, whom she carries on her back.

She says she works in the fields near her village.  Last year, she says, there weren't enough rains and, in some areas, the harvest was a disaster.

Locusts also caused considerable damage to Niger's always-meager crop of millet and grain last growing season.  That was followed by rains that ended much too early, worsening the situation.

The U.N.  World Food Program now estimates that more than 2.5 million Nigeriens are at high risk of severe malnutrition.

After a delayed reaction to the crisis by donor countries, sufficient emergency aid has begun to arrive only very recently.

Ms. Souley sits in the MSF admissions tent with her daughter Chapaatou, 3, crying in her arms. Chapaatou's body is skeletal. Flies crawl around her infected eyes and nose. Her hair is falling out.

Chappatou is weighed and measured by a team of nurses.  She weighs just over five and a half kilograms and is just 72 centimeters tall.

MSF, which usually operates in areas of severe medical crisis, opened its feeding center in Maradi in 2001. Niger suffers almost annual food shortages. But this year, says one of the center's medical staff, Dr. Chantal Umutoni, things are much worse.

"The majority of pathologies we have here [are] severe malaria, anemia, diarrhea, and respiratory infections," said Dr. Umutoni.

Malnutrition, Dr. Umutoni says, often makes routinely treatable illnesses fatal.  In the intensive care ward where Dr. Umutoni works, a child died the previous day.

"Often there are some who came late and we lost them. Maybe from malaria, from diarrhea. And if they were coming earlier, we could have saved them. And I think that is the most difficult thing to cope with," she added.

Young Chapaatou Soulay receives here medical checkup. Blood is taken for a malaria test. A nurse listens to her heart and lungs through a stethoscope.

Her mother says she has been running a high fever for nearly four months. Nurses say she is negative for malaria and respiratory infection. But they say she has infections in both eyes. And when they try to feed her, she breaks into painful sobs.

Chapaatou is among those who will be admitted to the center. Due to the limited capacity of the Maradi center, nurses say, around 40 percent of children have to be turned away.

In Maradi, Doctors Without Borders is building new tents in its camp to accommodate more children.  MSF France's country director in Niger, Johanne Sekkenes, says the mission there is one of the most successful MSF has ever organized.

"We have highly qualified medical personnel. We also have the products needed to take care of these children. We have a strategy of the hospitalization of the severest cases. And also a strategy of treating the severely malnourished children in outpatient clinics," she noted.  "All these factors, they help to have a very good cured rate. Eighty-five percent of the children admitted to the program, they will go home healthy."

But, Ms. Sekkkenes says, despite the aid now pouring into Niger, for many this assistance has come too late. For others, she says, the future remains uncertain.

"I see the situation as very serious. And we know that the coming weeks are the most difficult weeks of the year, every year in Niger. It's the rainy season. There's the diseases that come with the rainy season. It is also the weeks just before the next harvest. There's, if any reserves, food reserves, left in the villages, they're very low," she explained.

The World Food Program (WFP) plans to begin free food distributions in the worst hit areas this week. It is appealing for nearly $60 million of food aid to combat the food crisis.  The United States has pledged more than $13 million in aid to Niger so far this year.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs