16 September 2010 Although there are signs of improvement in Niger, which is in the midst of a severe food crisis, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned that child malnutrition rates are alarmingly high in neighbouring Chad.
“We’ve seen the positive impact of timely, well-coordinated food and nutrition assistance delivered in partnership with the Government in Niger,” where almost half of the 15-million strong population are hungry, said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran.
But in Chad, which experienced a long and crippling lean season, “children are weak and need to continue receiving food and nutritional support,” she stressed.
Weak and erratic rainfall across the eastern Sahel destroyed much of last year’s harvest, also drying up watering holes for cattle.
To respond to the situation, WFP rolled out emergency food assistance operations in Niger and Chad to meet children’s nutritional needs and to keep families fed through the lean season, when food is in short supply and prices are on the upswing.
Manuel Aranda da Silva, the agency’s Emergency Coordinator for the Eastern Sahel, said that in some parts of Niger, prices are starting to fall in local markets and malnutrition rates among the very young are stabilizing.
Mr. Aranda da Silva, who has just wrapped up a fact-finding mission to Niger and Chad, said that hunger rates remain high among Chadian children.
Global acute malnutrition rates in Chad for children under the age of two are as high as 26 per cent in places, far exceeding the 15 per cent emergency threshold.
That figure is nearly 4 per cent above the international definition for an emergency situation.
WFP, he said, must maintain its operation for at least the next three months, as well as begin tackling some of the structural causes of malnutrition and food insecurity to bolster resilience to recurrent droughts.
“The health system in Chad does not cover all areas, and there are fewer non-governmental organizations to support WFP’s food distributions,” he noted, emphasizing that even though harvest time is approaching, it is dangerous to scale back nutritional support for Chadian children.
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