UNICEF Warns of Severe Malnutrition Threat to Millions of Children in Niger, as Pope Francis prays for Peace amidst Crisis

By Charles Igwe

Amidst the ongoing crisis in the Republic of Niger, UNICEF spokesperson Stefano Savi has issued a statement shedding light on the escalating insecurity that is putting “countless vulnerable children in grave peril.”

The West and Central Africa region, grappling with alarmingly high rates of severe malnutrition in children, faces an additional burden due to the recent coup d’état in Niger, amplifying the already dire humanitarian situation.

Over 2 million children are currently caught in the grip of this crisis, desperately requiring humanitarian aid for survival.

Prior to the civil unrest and political instability, projections estimated that by 2023, around 1.5 million children under 5 years old in Niger would be grappling with malnutrition, including at least 430,000 children afflicted by the most severe form of the condition.

Should the circumstances persist and if households experience economic recession coupled with soaring food prices, the number of children vulnerable to malnutrition is poised to soar drastically.

During Sunday’s Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis offered his prayers for the people of Niger and the stability of the Sahel region, extending his support and hopes for a peaceful resolution.

Addressing the constrained flow of humanitarian assistance, UNICEF has been consistently delivering aid to children in Niger. In July, around 1,300 health centers received shipments of ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), designated to treat 100,000 children in the upcoming months. However, according to Mr. Savi, this falls significantly short of the actual requirements.

The ongoing crisis has also triggered power shortages, notably affecting the healthcare system’s 95 percent reliance on electricity for cold chain infrastructure.

UNICEF stressed the urgency of ensuring that critical supplies like childhood vaccines and equipment are not jeopardized. The organization expressed alarm over life-saving supplies being held up at various entry points into Niger, emphasizing the immediate need for their delivery.

Presently, two shipping containers containing vital cold-storage equipment are stalled at Niger’s border with Benin. Additionally, 19 containers carrying vaccination equipment are detained at the port of Cotonou, while 29 containers filled with therapeutic food and syringes for Niger remain stranded at sea.

The delay in the arrival of essential medical equipment and their exposure to adverse weather conditions places millions of lives at risk. Mr. Savi emphasized that these resources, critical for malnutrition treatment and immunization, risk losing their effectiveness for the children who desperately require them.

UNICEF issued an urgent plea for all parties involved in the crisis to guarantee the safe passage of humanitarian workers and supplies to the most vulnerable families and children. The statement called for the protection of essential humanitarian programs against the impact of sanctions and funding reductions.

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