The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said today it is scaling up its operations in Niger, citing a recent worsening of the situation in the West African nation that has been hit by drought and poor harvests and where child malnutrition has now reached emergency levels.
We`re doubling the size of our operations and ramping up already significant interventions, to take even swifter action to protect these children, " said Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the Rome-based agency.
New Government data released last week showed that nearly half of Niger`s 7.1 million people are currently affected by acute food shortages caused by prolonged drought and crop failure in the arid Sahel region.
It also found that the global acute malnutrition rate in Niger has reached nearly 17 per cent for children under the age of five, which is far above the 15 per cent warning threshold and the 12.3 per cent rate estimated last year.
WFP, at the Government`s request, is already providing vital food aid to some 2.3 million people for the summer lean season, when food is scarce.
The agency is now planning a new emergency operation to assist an additional two million people and specifically targeting more children aged 6 to 23 months to boost their nutrition.
It also plans to increase the number of malnourished pregnant women and nursing mothers it is feeding, up from 24,000 to 105,000, and boost assistance at therapeutic feeding centres.
WFP estimates it will need an extra $100 million to scale up its operations in Niger.
Meanwhile, the agency reported that it is responding to food insecurity in neighbouring Chad with distributions to some 850,000 vulnerable people and assistance to pregnant women, nursing mothers and malnourished children in supplementary feeding centres.
The number of centres open went up from 36 in March to 52 last month and this figure is expected to increase to around 140 in the coming weeks, the agency stated in a news release.
Humanitarian agencies have so far received 46 per cent of the $190 million they requested in April to enable them to respond to the crisis in Niger.