Food and nutrition crisis in Niger and the Western Sahel

The West African Sahel is facing one of the worst food and nutrition crises in recent years.

Some 10 million people in Niger, Chad, Mali and Mauritania are at risk of hunger before the next harvest in late September; hundreds of thousands of children are severely malnourished; and people’s most precious asset, their livestock, have died in large numbers.

In late 2009 the US-based Famine Early Warning Systems Network highlighted signs of the crisis: a major drop in cereal production and poor pastoral conditions due to failed rains, and a dangerous combination of poverty and high food prices.

UN agencies, NGOs and governments have been trying to ease the crisis, but say funding has been insufficient and late, given that bringing food to landlocked countries with hardly any infrastructure can take up to five months.

The situation in Chad’s Sahelian belt running across the centre of the country is especially worrying: While malnutrition figures are alarmingly high - up to 27 percent of under-five children in some areas - the number of organizations on the ground is limited. People have compared the situation there to the crisis in Niger in 2005.

People struggle every year in the Sahel countries, among the poorest in the world. A third of the population of Chad and Niger are chronically undernourished - regardless of the size of the harvest. Each year, 300,000 under-five children die of malnutrition, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

IRIN’s coverage of these issues is presented in this series of articles.