In the Zinder region, MSF has treated 4,372 children suffering from malnutrition since the beginning of the year. Malnutrition is higher than 2006 levels, and MSF teams are worried by these figures at the beginning of the lean period between the depletion of last year's grain stocks and the next harvest (see below). Malnutrition is endemic in Niger for structural and economic reasons. A large part of the country is desert, which concentrates the population in the southern regions. Agriculture is poorly developed and primarily based on the cultivation of millet and niebe beans. Families therefore depend on harvests that vary in their abundance according to climatic conditions. In the inter-harvest period, food stocks amassed after the October harvest are completely consumed. Most families have no food remaining. The explanation for the nutritional crisis in 2005 begins with the poor harvest. Afterwards, families' food reserves were quickly exhausted. Speculation in grain caused a dramatic increase in market prices, especially of millet. To manage their debts, some households were forced to sell their animals or even their land, which further impoverished them.

An improvement in 2006

In 2006, MSF treated more than 15,000 children in its nutritional program in Zinder region. Admissions were much lower than in 2005, which would have suggested an improvement in the nutritional situation in the country. But between January and June 2007, MSF teams treated 2,725 severely malnourished and 1,647 moderately malnourished children in our nutritional centres. Hospital facilities were available for complicated cases, as well as mobile centres for patients receiving treatment at home. In June, needs were such that we reopened some mobile centres and treated 740 children.

Worrying trends in 2007

Between June 11 and June 15, 215 children aged six months to just under five years, suffering from severe malnutrition and associated diseases, were admitted to MSF's intensive nutritional rehabilitation and education centre in Zinder. Another 248 were admitted to the centre in Magaria. Twenty per cent of these patients come from Tanout, to the north of Zinder. Our mobile nutritional rehabilitation and education centres treated 54 children in Bangaza, 35 in Malawa, and 126 in Magaria. The number of patients admitted to the program is higher than the number treated last year during the same period. Given that the price of millet is stable, this increase indicates that some families have already exhausted their food supplies. MSF will undertake a nutritional study at the end of June to evaluate the seriousness of the nutritional situation in the region. The period in which food reserves are depleted is referred to in French as the période de soudure. People must wait for the next harvest to replenish their stocks. The duration of this period varies; it usually lasts three to four months, from June to September. During these months, families have to find alternate means of obtaining food.

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