Aid Agencies Call for Preventative Action to Fight NIger Malnutrition
Aid Agencies Call for Preventative Action to Fight NIger Malnutrition

The United Nations says malnutrition rates in Niger remain above emergency levels despite stronger rains and better harvests.

In a country where nearly two-thirds of people faced severe food shortages earlier this year, better rains have led to bigger cereal harvests.

But so many subsistence farmers were so deep in debt from last year's failed crops that much of this year's millet, beans and sorghum went to repay loans. That is compounding the start of Niger's annual lean season between harvests.

While the prevalence of malnutrition among children has fallen slightly, the United Nations says it remains above emergency levels.

"Any prevalence greater than 15 percent is considered to be alarming and at the national level we are at 15.3 percent. And this is already alarming,? said nutritionist Rachel Fouli who works for the World Food Program in Niger. ?And then if we take the age group six to 23 months, it's even very serious. It's about 26 percent. So that's why we consider the situation in Niger is still alarming."

Severe acute malnutrition substantially increases the risk of death for children under five. According to the U.N.'s latest nutritional survey in Niger, severe acute malnutrition is affecting seven percent of children under the age of two.

Relief officials say the overall response to this food crisis improved greatly following last February's military coup. Soldiers moved more quickly to assess the problems and distribute supplies while working more closely with relief officials on structural changes to combat Niger's chronic food insecurity.

Part of the military's program to return to civilian rule in January includes improvements in health, education, and agriculture to lessen the impact of unreliable rains in a huge, poorly-developed country where the size of the population is growing far faster than its ability to feed itself.