GENEVA – The U.N. Children’s Fund is urging the international community to pay more attention to Niger, where more than 2 million people are malnourished and living in dire conditions.
More than 3.8 million people in Niger, more than half children, are facing a humanitarian crisis because of a combination of natural and human-caused disasters.
Niger, a landlocked country, is facing attacks by Islamist militants and other armed groups along its borders with Nigeria in the south, Burkina Faso in the southeast, Mali in the west and in the Lake Chad region in the east. This has led to significant displacements in the country and is creating havoc for hundreds of thousands of children.
Besides conflict, the U.N. Children’s Fund reports Niger is dealing with food shortages, malnutrition, recurrent epidemics, climate-related disasters such as floods and drought, and the socioeconomic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The UNICEF representative in the Niger country office, Aboubacry Tall, said malnutrition remained a major threat to children’s health and development. Speaking on a video link from the capital, Niamey, he said the rate of acute severe malnutrition remained extremely high. He said 2.2 million people needed nutrition assistance, of whom 1.6 million were children under age 5.
Also, he said, there are “about half a million – 450,000 exactly – who are suffering from severe acute malnutrition and therefore become almost condemned to a life of underachievement if they survive.”
Hundreds of schools close
UNICEF reports more than 370 schools have been forced to close over recent months because of insecurity in conflict-affected areas. It says attacks on schools and threats to education are destroying the hopes and dreams of an entire generation of children.
Tall said UNICEF was working across the country to help those affected by emergencies and conflicts. He noted that displaced people mostly live in host communities and share everything with them – shelter, land, food.
He said displaced people were not relying totally on humanitarian assistance to survive.
“People grow food. People do small businesses on the side, buying and selling goods, for example,” he said. “There is a lot of economic activity, which some of the humanitarian programs do also support through cash transfers to support to food production.”
Tall said UNICEF was working with the government and humanitarian partners to respond to acute emergencies, such as population movements, and to mitigate risks. He said the agency needed more than $100 million to deliver vital humanitarian aid to children throughout the country this year.