Restrictions imposed by Niger’s military junta halt vital assistance for more than 90,000 undernourished children

Restrictions Imposed By Niger's Military Junta Halt Vital Assistance For More Than 90,000 Undernourished Children

Border closures imposed by the military junta in Niger have caused a significant disruption in the delivery of essential aid for malnourished children under the age of five in crisis-stricken regions such as Tahoua, Maradi, and Zinder, according to the World Food Programme (WFP). The WFP reports that more than 9,300 tons of cargo, including specialized food for the treatment and prevention of malnutrition, remain blocked between the port of Lomé in Togo and the Benin border. This cargo is intended for Niger and Burkina Faso.

The sudden closure of the borders in early September adversely affected 90,000 children, but this number could escalate to 160,000 by October if the borders are not reopened. Jean-Noel Gentile, the WFP’s Country Director and Representative in Niger expressed concern over this situation, emphasizing that it is imperative to ensure uninterrupted access to nutrition for the children of Niger. Failure to do so could result in severe infections and preventable deaths.

In addition to the immediate impact on children’s health, the political turmoil and border closures have led to a significant increase in food prices. The WFP and its partners have observed a 21% surge in the average price of rice and sorghum in the country. Prior to the coup, Niger was already experiencing the second-highest level of acute hunger since 2012, affecting 3.3 million people, equivalent to approximately 13% of the population.

The situation is particularly dire in hard-to-reach areas like northern Tahoua, northern Tillabéry, and certain towns in the Dosso region. Families living in these regions already face challenges due to climate change-induced food shortages, food inflation, and a struggling economy. The high cost of living exacerbates their predicament.

As a result of these circumstances, the WFP has been forced to halt supplementary feeding for 90,000 moderately malnourished children in Tahoua, Maradi, and Zinder since early September. This suspension will likely worsen child malnutrition, as vulnerable families already struggle to access nutritious food due to seasonal shortages, rising prices, and low purchasing power during lean seasons and pre-harvest periods.

The economic cost of child malnutrition in Niger is staggering, estimated at 289 billion CFA francs ($539 million or R10 billion) annually. Shockingly, half of the children under five who perish in the country have experienced some form of malnutrition, according to data from the national statistics institute of Niger.

The coup that took place on July 26, 2023, resulted in the ousting and imprisonment of Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum by the presidential guard. Subsequently, General Abdourahamane Tchiani, the commander of the Presidential Guard, declared himself the leader of the military junta.