Its bottom-ranking reflects the huge impact the food crisis across the Sahel region is having on nutrition in the country, where over 4 million Nigeriens are in need of food assistance. The United Nations (UN) World Food Programme is active in Niger, but warns that without sufficient support from the international community, thousands of children will starve this year. The organisation is facing an 80% shortfall in the budget it needs for supplying food over the months ahead.
But it isn’t only widespread malnutrition which leads to Niger’s bottom ranking in the Save the Children report. The study reflects a whole host of conditions in the country and acknowledges the inextricable link between the wellbeing of women (in terms of health care, education and economic opportunity) and the health of their children. Since many mothers don’t receive the care they need, or the right advice and education, they face an increased risk of dying in childbirth or of having pre-term, underweight or malnourished children. Apart from the high numbers of children who die from malnutrition-related causes, research now shows how a lack of proper nutrition in the first stage of an infant’s life can lead to irreversible damage to mental and physical development later.
The ‘State of the World’s Mothers 2012’ index ranks conditions for mothers and children in 165 countries, including 122 developing nations. It is based on various national data which gives a picture of a woman’s access to education and economic opportunities, as well as to maternal and child health care. Apart from having some of the highest rates of child malnutrition in the world, Niger performs poorly across a whole range of indicators to do with maternal and child health.
The statistics for Niger are thrown into particularly stark relief when compared with those of the highest performing country, Norway. For example, an average Norwegian girl will have 18 years of formal education and can expect to live to be 83 years old. In Niger, a girl typically receives just four years of education and lives only to 56 years. In terms of child mortality, only 1 mother in every 175 in Norway is likely to lose a child before their fifth birthday. In Niger, where 1 child in 7 dies under the age of five, every single mother in the country is likely to be affected by the loss of a child. For women in the West, this situation is is hard to imagine. At least in 2012, the government of Niger has fully acknowledged the scale of hunger in the country and admitted that it must work to turn around the desperate situation for millions of its people.