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Monday 22 January 2018

Children starve as famine stalks Niger

Grainne Cunningham

SMALL, helpless and starving -- 11-month-old Chafana Abdoulaye waits with her mother Rachida, just one of the millions of people affected by devastating drought in Niger, West Africa.

The severely-malnourished baby is waiting for a medical assessment at an outpatient clinic, similar to the many supported by Irish charity Goal in this famine-ravaged African country.

Once again, drought has brought misery to this extremely poor landlocked country that borders the Sahara Desert in the west of the continent.

Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable families across the country have no access to food and are at risk of starvation in August and September as a result of poor rains last year, which led to a failed harvest.

Medical personnel at clinics such as these are helping to ensure that those most affected by the crisis are given the vital aid that they require. This clinic in Magaria in the Zinder region of south Niger, is run by Medecins Sans Frontieres.

GOAL, which has based its operations in the same region, has been working with the extremely poor here since 2005.

Each month, the charity distributes emergency, special high-energy food to 2,500 severely malnourished children -- under five years -- along with family food rations to more than 220,000 people.

While continuing to provide emergency feeding, GOAL has extended its programmes to include extensive water, sanitation and hygiene projects, as well as education support and school refurbishment.

With little primary education, Niger has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world. The health system is basic and disease is widespread.

Its main export, uranium, is prone to price fluctuations. Other livelihood mainstays, such as subsistence crops and livestock, are constantly at the mercy of drought and creeping desertification.

Niger is currently ranked last (182nd of 182 countries) on the UN's Human Development Index.

Irish Independent

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