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Malnutrition in Niger Reaches Crisis Proportions: Women, Children Hit Hardest

In the midst of a deepening food crisis, one in four children born in Niger dies before the age of five, with experts predicting even higher mortality rates in the next few months. Niger is currently the second poorest country in the world, with women and children most affected by malnutrition and poor health. While famine has become an ever-present threat in Niger, the current food shortage is the worst since 1985. United Nations (UN) officials warn that despite a recent increase in aid, foodstuffs may not arrive in time to curtail the crisis.

The UN World Food Program and Doctors Without Borders called for help from the international community last November, warning that the food shortage could lead to a crisis of staggering proportions. In fact, current UN estimates put the number of people urgently in need of food aid at nearly one million, according to the New York Times. Until just a couple weeks ago, Luxembourg was the only nation to donate funds.

Compounding the problem, instead of allowing the direct distribution of food aid, Niger’s government had tried to bring down the market price of millet, a staple food in Nigeria, by selling it at subsidized prices. The move backfired, and millet prices rose exponentially. While the government has now changed its policy, the concern is that it will take weeks to reach those in need, especially to establish food centers in rural areas.

The UN is scheduled to begin delivery next week of nearly 38,000 tons of food to an estimated 2.5 million people from recent donor pledges nearing $22.8 million, reports The Washington Post. But even this increase in aid is estimated to fall short of the current need. The UN is now asking for a total of $80 million in international donations.

Sources:

New York Times 8/5/05; Washington Post 8/7/05; Salon.com 8/5/05

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