Niger children condemned to hunger

UN says aid organisations cannot help tens of thousands of children facing malnutrition.

There is, in their silence and patience, a quiet dignity.

In the yard of an old school near the town of Guidan Ider, 200 women wait with the children.

The younger ones are tired and listless. The older ones have little energy, their faces betraying struggles and hardships already suffered by children way too young to know there is another way.

In the current food crisis gripping the West African state of Niger, 900,000 children are at risk of malnutrition.

The UN’s World Food Programme is working with local charities, but even then they fear that tens of thousands will end up getting no help at all.

In Guidan Ider, they are trying to do what they can.

Five feeding stations have been set up around the area by a local group supported by the Swiss charity HeKs and its bigger, better known partner, Christian Aid.

Special porridge and supplies are provided for the children, but the grown-ups have to take care of themselves.

Dim prospects

Feeding centres provide children with food for a month, but then they must leave

Burja Gada takes the eye. Not because of the vivid red scarf she is wrapped up in, the only thing covering her nakedness. It is her size. She is tiny.

She weighs no more than two-and-a-half kilos. It would be a dangerous weight for a new born. Burja is three months old.

The aid workers told her grandmother to get her to the feeding station as soon as possible.

She carried her the five kilometres here. It is a journey that Ai Gada knows may save the baby’s life.

She tells me: “Only God knows if she will survive but being here will help her. I know people are being asked to help us. I hope they will think of my granddaughter and her getting enough food.”

The centre and four others like it provide two meals a day to the children over the course of a month. They must then move on and let others take their place.

Rayana Oumaro arrived here 20 days ago. Her mother knows that when she turned up at the front gates, the prospects were not bright. But now the nine month old sits and smiles and looks healthy.

Her mother, Fati Ali tells me: “My baby’s improving, each day improving. And if this hadn’t been here she would have die.”

Here and now

Issaka Larabou is fresh-faced and earnest. A bright helpful young man, he has worked here for a month. 

Issaka knows they are doing good work, but at night his dreams are filed with the faces of those he has had to turn away.

He chokes back the tears as he explains: “I think about them a lot. It is very difficult for us, but we can only help so many and have to think we are making the right choices.”

The charities involved here would like to help more, but they simply do not have the resources.

The man who runs the operation on the ground, Ibrahim Coulibaly knows what they do helps the here and now, but as he explains “studies show undernourished children are not smart enough, not strong enough so we are putting efforts into help them now and help this area in the future”.

As the hot steaming food is dished out into the pots brought from home, faces appear at the wall marking the centre’s boundary.

For every child here, five more are outside. And with the prospect of no immediate help they are condemned to continuing hunger. 

And they must wonder if their turn will come in time.

West Africa food crisis appeal number: 0207 523 2141

Source: Al Jazeera


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