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Malian refugees swell communities in Niger

Beneficiaries line up to collect their maize from Plan food distribution point in Tillaberi village.
Beneficiaries line up to collect their maize from Plan food distribution point in Tillaberi village.
February 21, 2012

The aid effort to ward off severe hunger in Niger is being complicated by the large influx of Malians escaping fighting in northern Mali. Over 20,000 refugees are now in the Tillaberi region which borders northern Mali - out of that group over 2000 people have reached communities where the INGO is working - a region where many inhabitants are already facing severe food insecurity and malnutrition.

Plan is presently providing aid – food and non-food items - to just over 1000 people from 162 families who arrived last week from Mali and who are living in very difficult circumstances in the northern part of Tillaberi.

With the return additionally of some 200,000 migrant workers from Libya and Côte d’Ivoire last year, communities are being pushed to the brink as already reduced food supplies now have to stretch even further.

During the “hungry season” in the past in Niger, usually April to November, malnutrition rates - especially in young children - rise with a peak in June. But, according to Dr. D. Saley, head of Tillaberi’s intensive therapeutic feeding center, the peak is expected to occur as early as April this year given that many families have no more than a month’s supply of food to last them until the next rainy season.

Cases of malnutrition are already appearing in the region: 1216 cases of moderate acute malnutrition were recorded in 26 villages in Tillaberi in January 2012.

Later this month, Plan is sending a team of forty health workers to 120 villages in Tillaberi, kitted out with screening equipment to identify severe malnutrition in young children.

During these initial screenings, children categorized as moderately malnourished and those who are severely malnourished without complications will be sent to health center and health huts to be treated with food enhanced with nutrients and vitamins given by Plan. Severely malnourished children with complications will be directed to the feeding center for intensive treatment, with the financial and technical support of Plan Niger.

“Plan is active in Niamey, Dosso and Tillaberi, and has undertaken several activities over the past months to mitigate the effects of a future food crisis, including small off season gardening initiatives,” said the director of Plan Niger, Rheal Drisdelle. “Gardens help people living along the river Niger to cultivate crops in the off-season, and are currently benefiting some 2,000 women, and indirectly their families, in twenty villages.”

He added: “We have also undertaken work to strengthen cereal banks and offer nutritional support to malnourished children under five as well as pregnant and lactating women. In Tillaberi, 57% of people reached by Plan’s work are young people under the age of 18.”

Along with other agencies in the region, Plan is emphasizing the need to focus on long-term support for the Sahel region as well as emergency food aid. Building up the resilience of the region to future droughts, and thereby gradually reducing the need for outside assistance, is critical.

Over the coming months, Plan's priorities will be to help build communities’ resilience through reinforcing existing livelihoods and to provide assistance to affected children and their families through school feeding and food distribution programs. Other initiatives will continue to focus on sustainable gardening and agriculture, drought resistant crop cultivation, grain banks, microfinance and nutritional centers for mothers and babies.

Learn more about Plan's work in Niger.

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