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Food Crisis in Africa Hits Niger’s Children Particularly Hard

June 21, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
A once-in-a-generation famine is threatening millions of lives in West Africa, including hundreds of thousands of children in Niger. Rohit Kachroo of Independent Television News reports.
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TRANSCRIPT

JEFFREY BROWN: Next, to a growing famine unfolding in West Africa. Million of lives are in danger, and according to the United Nations, many of those threatened with starvation are children.

One of the largest and hardest-hit countries is Niger.

Rohit Kachroo of Independent Television News traveled there and filed this report.

ROHIT KACHROO: In the hospitals of southern Niger, a crisis is developing.

This is what it looks like, and this is what it sounds like.

(CRYING)

ROHIT KACHROO: Ibrahim is eight months old, his tiny body consumed by the effects of severe malnutrition. Majet is in pain, hungry and desperately thirsty. Yahaman is eight months old and struggling to stay alive.

Ameena’s hair has been turned red by a lifetime without enough food, and so has her sister’s. Their mother tells me that she will stay until they get better. Then there are those who worry their children might never improve.

Every child here is at serious risk of dying. For each bed, there is a skeletal frame, as, for a second year, a once-in-a-generation hunger crisis strikes the children of Africa.

From many miles around, more young patients arrive all the time. That’s more work for the doctors who have rarely seen anything like this.

“The situation is serious,” he says. “The admission rate is rising dramatically.”

Right now, across Western Africa, communities like this are caught between climate change, conflict and poverty. The women of a village complain about a lack of rain, but it’s when I ask about food that they burst with anger, too little, too expensive. Their families may not survive the coming months, they say.

MARTIN DAWES, UNICEF: What you’re looking at is a community across wide areas, communities that need assistance because, despite their best efforts, they have been pushed off their ability to cope.

ROHIT KACHROO: Some help is here. The international response has been swifter than it has been in the past. But this is a crisis across many countries, affecting many millions.

Evelyn Devaud even wants to show us the impact of the wave of international health earlier in the year. It paid for tons of a miracle peanut paste 23 pence a packet, an instant cure for many hungry children. But the village remains on a knife edge.

EVELYN DEVAUD, Medecins Sans Frontieres: All the children have got the same kind of story. But we have tried to help them as much as we can. And for sure, the situation is variable.

ROHIT KACHROO: Variable because the rains then continue to fail. And with Mother Nature as an enemy, the aid that was given wasn’t enough.

The problems faced by people here in Tobiri are seen in every single village for hundreds of miles around here. And every mother here knows that there is a fine line between survival and catastrophe.

So, although food will help now, aid agencies say that equipment and education might prevent the next crisis.

MARTIN DAWES: We go from, like, $80 to $120 the longer a child is under treatment. So, basically, this is a classic stitch in time saves nine.

RAY SUAREZ: An update on two children featured in that story.

The red-haired toddler, Ameena, is improving, but eight-month old Yahaman died the day after ITN’s team left the hospital.

Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro has also been in Niger. He’s reporting on international efforts to stem the crisis. Look for his story on the NewsHour next month.