Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Famine Persists in Niger, but Denial Seems in the Past

Once again Niger is facing a food crisis, a grimly familiar predicament in a vast desert country with an explosive birthrate and rudimentary agriculture. Rains and crops failed last year — rainfall was about 70 percent below normal in the region — and now half the population of 15 million faces food shortages, officials say. Thus it was in 2005, 1985 and 1974.
Thousands of children are being pulled out of schools because parents have left their villages to search for food, and a handful have closed. “Exceptionally, this year, we’ve had this departure,” said Salissou Hachimou, the director of the school in Kongomé, where 43 out of 232 children have left.
In the countryside, ribs poke from under the taut skin of livestock. The animal fodder supply is 66 percent below normal. Mangy camels range, nuzzling the denuded tops of trees.
About 12 percent of the country’s children are acutely malnourished, according to Unicef. A handful of tiny babies with feeble limbs populated a ward in an intensive nutrition clinic in the desert town of Tanout. But the atmosphere was calm and the clinic was not overwhelmed, as Mr. Holmes noted.
The arid region was 11,000 tons short of its expected cereal production last year. The crop failed entirely in the village of Dalli. “Yes, I am hungry now,” said Safia Joulou, 26, who prepares one meal per day, boiling leaves gathered in the endless surrounding sand and scrub.

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