Nigerien children walk past burned cars Nigerien children walk past burned cars   (AFP or licensors)

UNICEF: Millions of children in Niger at risk of severe malnutrition

The UNICEF Representative in Niger sheds light on the impact of the ongoing crisis on millions of vulnerable children, as Pope Francis appeals for prayers for the coup-hit nation.

By Andrea Rego

Amid the ongoing crisis in the Republic of Niger, UNICEF representative Stefano Savi has released a statement detailing how rising insecurity continues to “pose a growing danger to millions of vulnerable children.”

In West and Central Africa, where the prevalence of severe malnutrition among children is extremely high, the recent coup d'état in Niger adds a heavy burden to an “already disastrous humanitarian landscape.”

At present, the crisis has affected more than 2 million children, who are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.

Before the civil unrest and political instability in Niger, it was estimated that 1.5 million children under the age of 5 would be malnourished by the year 2023, with at least 430,000 children suffering from the deadliest form of malnutrition.

If the situation persists and if economic recession hits households and incomes, accompanied by a surge in food prices, there is likely to be a drastic rise in the number of children vulnerable to malnutrition.

Papal appeal for Niger

On Sunday, during the Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis prayed for the people of Niger and for stability in the Sahel region.

“I accompany with my prayers the efforts of the international community to find a peaceful solution as soon as possible for everyone’s benefit,” the Holy Father said, extending his support to the people of Niger.

Restricted flows of humanitarian aid

Meanwhile, UNICEF has continually provided humanitarian aid to children across Niger.

In July, around 1,300 health centres were sent ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), which would be used to treat 100,000 children in the coming months. “However, this is far from sufficient,” according to Mr. Savi.

The ongoing crisis has also led to electricity shortages, and it is important to note that 95 percent of cold chain infrastructure in the healthcare system is dependent on electricity.

The UNICEF statement highlighted that measures need to be taken “to ensure that childhood vaccines and other supplies are not at risk.”

“We are alarmed that our life-saving supplies remain blocked at several points of entry into the country and must urgently reach Niger, which has no access to the sea,” said Mr. Savi.

Currently, 2 shipping containers with essential equipment for the cold-storage supply chain are blocked at Niger’s border with Benin. An additional 19 containers with vaccination equipment are blocked at the port of Cotonou, and 29 containers with stocks of therapeutic food and syringes for Niger are blocked at sea.

Life-saving aid

Further delay in the entry of medicinal equipment to Niger and their exposure to weather puts millions of lives at risk.

Mr. Savi stated, “These life-saving aids for the treatment of malnutrition and immunization risk losing their effectiveness for the children we help.”

UNICEF urgently called on all the parties involved in the crisis to ensure that humanitarian workers and supplies safely reach the most vulnerable children and families.

The statement appealed for “essential humanitarian programmes to be safeguarded against the impact of sanction and cuts in funding.”

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21 August 2023, 12:00