Saturday, May 19, 2012

Food Crisis in Niger Escalates

EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: Aid agencies operating in West Africa say what should have been a preventable food crisis is now unavoidable. With millions facing hunger, there are pleas for more help. But for many, it's already too late.

In Niger, the centre of the crisis, the death toll has started to climb, as Africa correspondent Ginny Stein reports.

GINNY STEIN, AFRICA CORRESPONDENT: It's been a crisis in the making since crops failed last year. Now families are being forced to sell what animals they have left to get cash for food. But no-one has any money to buy them.

HAJI HAMIDOU, KODAOU PEUL VILLAGE CHIEF (translated): Now we can't even sell our animals in the market to buy food for our other animals or for us. We can't find anything. The forest that existed where we went with our other animals, everything is finished now.

GINNY STEIN: In Niger, the first warnings of this food crisis were sounded late last year.

INOUSSA OUMAROU, AGUIE DISTRICT PREFECT (translated): The highest levels of government, including the president, raised the alarm early to the outside world right at the last harvest. The international community did react, but the efforts have not been enough.

GINNY STEIN: Despite prevention efforts, the number of starving children is now on the rise. Adamou Magagi must decide which children need emergency help right now.

ADAMOU MAGAGI, SAVE THE CHILDREN HEALTH OFFICER (translated): This is Zubeda (phonetic). She weighs 4.3 kilos. She should normally weigh seven kilos. So the difference is 2.7 kilos. We have to do everything we can to help her gain the weight.

GINNY STEIN: Kolowa Dan Malam lives a long way from this clinic. Hunger drove her here.

KOLOWA DAN MALAM, VILLAGER (translated): The problem right now in our village is that we don't have anything to eat. Some of our husbands are selling off parts of our field, and some of the women are going out into the bush to look for wood to sell.

GINNY STEIN: A decision is made to start her daughter on special peanut paste. But she is too weak to eat it and both are admitted as patients. Mariama Kabirou lost a child in the last food crisis to hit Niger. When her son Idi (phonetic) fell sick, she sought help immediately.

MARIAMA KABIROU, VILLAGER (translated): Life right now scares me. My husband is not here, his mother is not here. What do you see? I have small children.

GINNY STEIN: But malnourished from the start, his decline has been rapid. And shortly after our visit, he died.

ANNIE BODMER-ROY, SAVE THE CHILDREN SPOKESWOMAN: Sadly that is something that does happen here. Often when the families do get to the clinics it can be too late.

GINNY STEIN: People here knew what was coming. In a country affected by climate change more severely than most, failed crops and no rain have only one conclusion. Niger's food crisis is now being described as past the point of no return. Across the country there is little available food for either people or their livestock. Aid agencies say their only hope is that now as the death toll mounts, the world may take notice.

Written by Ginny Stein@LateLine ABC Australia

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