The U.N. World Food Program warns severely malnourished children in Niger are at risk of dying. The program is set to double the number of people receiving food aid in drought-hit Niger, in the light of a new government survey showing malnutrition rates among young children have reached emergency levels.
The World Food Program says alarm bells go off when the emergency threshold of more than 15 percent of acutely malnourished children is reached.
Officials with the humanitarian agency say a new government survey in Niger finds the number of acutely malnourished children under age five has risen to nearly 17 percent. And spokeswoman Emilia Casella says that figure is even higher among very young children.
"Children under the age of three were in particular risk. They were more than twice as likely to be suffering acute malnutrition in Niger at 21.7 percent across the whole country, compared to children older than three, between three and five years old, who were experiencing that at a rate of about 9.5 percent," said Casella. "The malnutrition rates of children this young will have lasting effects on their physical and intellectual development, and that will affect them through their entire lives."
As a consequence, Casella says the World Food Program will increase supplementary feeding for all children under age two. And she says the families of these children will receive more food rations as well.
She explains the extra rations are being given to prevent hungry families from splitting the special nutritious food meant to treat acutely malnourished children, thereby depriving them of important vitamins and minerals.
For this to work, she says the agency will have to provide food for more than 4.5 million people; This is almost double the number of beneficiaries it planned to feed in Niger this year.
Program spokeswoman Casella says acutely malnourished children go to certain designated centers to receive their supplementary feeding. She says severely malnourished children require even greater care.
"Children who are severely malnourished are at particular risk of dying immediately - you know dying in a very acute concerned way - and they are receiving therapeutic feeding; and they are actually brought into a center, admitted into a center for that, as opposed to maybe coming with their parents or a care giver into a supplementary feeding center," she added.
The survey finds 3.2 percent of children under age five are severely malnourished. The program plans to increase the number of malnourished pregnant women and nursing mothers it is feeding from 24,000 to more than 100,000.
The agency had budgeted $140 million for its humanitarian operation in Niger this year. It says it will need an extra $100 million to ramp up its assistance program.