More than 90,000 moderately malnourished children under five in crisis-hit regions of Niger can no longer access the specialized nutritional foods they desperately need to stop their condition from becoming severe. Supplies of vital humanitarian foods dried up in early September 2023 due to border closures which are preventing humanitarian actors – including the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) – from importing much-needed nutritional products into Niger.
WFP is warning that the number of children under five at risk of losing access to this vital nutritional support could rise to 160,000 by October unless urgent measures are taken to facilitate and accelerate the shipment of this much-needed humanitarian cargo into Niger from neighboring countries.
“We cannot allow the children of Niger to be cut off from such a critical nutritional lifeline. To prevent a severe nutritional crisis, supplies must reach the country. If they do not the consequences will be measured in serious infection and preventable deaths,” said Jean-Noel Gentile, WFP’s Country Director and Representative in Niger.
As a result of the ongoing political crisis in Niger and subsequent border closures, over 9,300 mt of WFP cargo (including specialized foods for the treatment and prevention of malnutrition) destined for Niger and Burkina Faso (through Niger) remain blocked between the port of Lomé in Togo and the border in Benin.
This situation has forced WFP to suspend supplementary feeding to 90,000 moderately malnourished children in Tahoua, Maradi, and Zinder starting in early September. The suspension of WFP’s nutritional support is likely to exacerbate child malnutrition in a country where vulnerable families already struggle to access nutritious foods due to seasonal shortages, rising food prices, and low purchasing power during the lean season and pre-harvest periods.
Recent market monitoring by WFP and partners indicates that the average price of rice and sorghum increased by 21 percent in the country following the political crisis. This adversely affects vulnerable families’ capacity to eat enough nutritious food.
Furthermore, prior to the political crisis, 3.3 million people in Niger (13 percent of the population) already faced acute hunger – the second highest level witnessed since analyses began in 2012, while one in two children under five suffer from at least one form of malnutrition. This alarming nutritional situation is particularly worrying in hard-to-reach areas such as northern Tahoua; northern Tillabéry and some municipalities in Dosso Region.
Tragically, according to the national statistics institute of Niger, one in two children under five who dies in Niger has suffered from some form of malnutrition, while Niger’s economy loses an estimated 289 billion CFA francs (539 million US dollars) annually – or more than 7 percent of annual Gross Domestic Product – due to child malnutrition.
WFP plays a vital role in the fight against malnutrition, providing supplementary feeding to moderately malnourished children under five, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers. Under its resilience-building programme, WFP also helps communities prevent malnutrition through community nutrition education and awareness raising while promoting the local value chains of locally fortified nutritional products ensuring local solutions are brought to scale in close coordination with partners.
“Targeted Supplementary Feeding remains key to preventing children under five from falling into severe forms of malnutrition, childhood illnesses, and death. WFP is committed to supporting malnourished children, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, making sure they have access to food and nutrition assistance they need to grow and have a productive life. To achieve this, we need sustained humanitarian access” Gentile insisted.
In 2023, WFP planned to provide nutrition support to 750,000 children representing half of all children projected to suffer from moderately acute malnutrition in the country, and has so far assisted around 62 percent of these children since January.