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Niger: visualising one million children

Twenty-month-old Roukaya is suffering from severe acute malnutrition.
Twenty-month-old Roukaya is suffering from severe acute malnutrition. She is now being treated at a Save the Children feeding centre.

“On behalf of The World Food Programme, I welcome you on board.”

The place is Niamey international airport, in Niger, West Africa, it’s 7.30 in the morning and it’s already above 30 degree Celsius.

I’m headed to Zinder, one of the three regions in Niger that are hardest hit by drought.

“It’s tough to get your head around”

In Niger alone, more than 6 million people are sensing and preparing for what is to come. And a number of other countries in West Africa are also affected.

1 million children across West Africa risk starvation. It is such a huge number that it’s tough to get your head around it. They say that people  can easily understand figures below 1,000, but when they have to think bigger, they lose sense of how big the number really is.

Just try for a second, to close your eyes and imagine those children closest to you. Then multiply that, over and over again. Did you manage to visualise 1 million children? No? Neither did I.

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Three regions

Save the Children is working in all three regions affected by the crisis – Zinder, Maradi and Diffa. Some international organisations have withdrawn from the Diffa region for security reasons. Save the Children has not.

We are treating malnourished children and providing free health care to both women and children under five. And we will be distributing food provided by the UN World Food Programme, or arranging cash transfers to thousands of people.

Unacceptable statistics

“In Diffa, you can’t even find vegetables to buy any more”, my travel partner, Cyrille tells me. Cyrille is Save the Children’s Country Director in Niger. And he’s worried.

Niger is already one of the world’s least developed countries. The child mortality rate is the 11th highest in the world. One in five children die before they reach the age of five.

The bad news is that these  statistics  describe non-crisis years. I can only imagine the figures if we are to see a full blown food crisis in a couple of weeks, as most experts and agencies are predicting.

Save the Children is scaling up all its activities but due to limited funds, the outlook is not good. And if the funding shortage is not filled, millions will go hungry. Simple as that.

We’ve landed in Zinder. I‘m about to see with my own eyes how the situation on the ground really is. I’ve seen malnourished children before and I never get used to it. I hope I never will.

Hedinn Halldorsson, Emergency Communication Manager

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