On the front line of the global battle to stop starvation in drought-stricken Niger, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) stands armed with a life-saving porridge for undernourished children and syringes to vaccinate against killer diseases.
"The state of health of these women and children is very precarious," UNICEF Health and Nutrition Joint Administrator Daouda Alfari Dagada says as mothers in the village of Tsaki, babies strapped to their backs, wait patiently in line to receive food and medical attention near Maradi, epicentre of the food crisis afflicting up to 2.5 million people in the word's second poorest country.
"[Of] the children, I would say almost two thirds are suffering from moderate malnutrition. Pregnant women are also undernourished. Many suffer from anaemia, which poses risks for them to have a normal and safe delivery," she added.
With money donated by governments and ordinary people around the world, UNICEF has set up a cereal bank to provide weekly distributions of grain, and is providing vaccinations and health check-ups for children in the West African country suffering from drought and the worst invasion of crop-devouring locusts in 15 years.
Working closely with its partners on the ground, UNICEF Niger has provided over 41 tons of therapeutic milk, 6.7 tons of therapeutic food and 190 tons of UNIMIX, a life-saving porridge easy for undernourished children to digest, at 10 fixed therapeutic feeding centres and 21 outreach therapeutic centres across Niger.
In collaboration with the UN World Food Programme (WFP), 187 tons of corn-soy blend and 614 tons of cereals have been delivered to 62 affected villages, benefiting an estimated 200,000 people, including 40,000 children under five. In addition, about 900 tons of cereals are being delivered to another 90 villages, and approximately six tons of seed (corn, wheat, potato) have also been provided.
To empower the local communities, UNICEF is supporting the creation of cereal banks and helping train health workers. Education about nutrition and how to deal with shortages has also been provided in local villages.
Efforts are also underway to prevent the food situation in neighbouring countries, including Nigeria, Mali, and Burkina Faso, from worsening.