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WFP Warns Of Critical Malnutrition Among Children In Niger

A new survey indicates widespread malnutrition among children in Niger, with many needing urgent medical and nutritional assistance.

The World Food Program and Helen Keller International conducted the survey in Zinder and Maradi. The results indicate nearly 136,000 children under the age of five are suffering from malnutrition in just those two regions. But officials say if the findings are extrapolated for all of Niger, the figure may be as high as 350,000.

Gian Carlo Cirri is the World Food Program country director for Niger. He says, "Those are very high figures for a country where you don’t have a conflict, where you don’t have displaced persons."

He says, “The results would normally indicate people living in a war zone.”

Adding, "The drought and the locust invasion in 2004 play a role in this. People are lacking food and this situation will get worse up to August/September, when the first harvest will be available. So this is one reason. The second reason is most probably very high prevalence of poverty."

He says more than 60 percent of the people in Niger live on less than one US dollar a day. Other contributing factors, he says, are a lack of sanitation and clean drinking water.

The effects of the drought and locusts have caused many people to leave the rural areas and seek jobs in urban centers. At the same time, the market price for livestock is plummeting as more people sell their animals to buy food, which is growing more expensive.

The WFP country director says the signs of malnutrition are easily seen among the children.

"Of course, when you reach a certain stage of malnutrition, even a non-specialist would notice that the children have a serious health problem. They are losing weight. They are much more vulnerable to any disease. You have inflated bellies. So when we reach the acute stage it is very easy to notice," he says.

The World Food Program has made an emergency appeal for more money to deal with the effects of drought and locusts in Niger. It says its current operation has a shortfall of two and a half million dollars. In all, the WFP says it is assisting 400,000 people in Niger.