Badly malnourished children are having their treatment cut short because feeding centres are too hard to get to, say aid workers.
In some cut -off areas of the nation, health centres are too far away for families to reach at all. Others have to travel long distances to get there.
It takes about eight weeks of intensive feeding, on average, for a child to recover from malnutrition. But just at feeding programmes in Zinder and Maradi in south Niger, one in five malnourished children in the south drop out because they are travelling from Nigeria.
In spite of the drop-out rate, week-on-week the number of badly malnourished children turning up at feeding centres is surging. Just last week the number of malnourished children signed in to the centres climbed by an extra 8,000, according to figures from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
As many as 84,000 seriously malnourished children have been taken into treatment since the start of this year, the organisation said.
In the nations’ cut-off south eastern province, Diffa, child malnutrition is getting worse. “People have no coping mechanisms left,” said a spokesperson for Save the Children. “They have exhausted most of their food stocks. Even though we are managing to cope, the situation is likely to deteriorate over this month and next,” she told the United Nations news service, IRIN.
Diffa province has the highest global malnutrition rates in Niger, with 17 per cent, acutely malnourished, according to the most recent survey a year ago.
In some parts of Diffa, many families find it hard to get to health centres at all.
As many as 70 per cent of villages are further than 15km from health centres, with some villages 50km away. It can take three days to walk to the centre and three days to walk back, so by the time mothers get their children there, they have to start back.
In Zinder and Maradi, the feeding programme drop out rate is high because it takes the children and their mothers too long to go to and from the centre. Husbands don’t want their wives and children to stay on their own at the centres for long stretches of time and as harvesting season starts, women are being called back to work in the fields, say aid workers.
Niger, on the edge of the Sahara is rated by the UN as one of the world's least-developed nations. The drought-prone country often struggles to feed its people.