(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Slight drop in malnutrition but food remains scarce

[Niger] Traders at the Boubon market, southwest Niger. Plenty of food but few can afford. [Date picture taken: 08/23/2006]
Nicholas Reader/IRIN

With levels of malnutrition in West Africa slightly lower in 2007 than the previous year, the overall amount of money aid organisations are requesting from donors for the 2008 Consolidated Appeal Process (CAP) for the sub-region is also lower, UN officials say.

“There is less of a malnutrition crisis this year but [structural] problems of food security are still a serious concern,” Hervé Ludovic de Lys the regional head of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs told IRIN at the launch of the 2008 CAP which called on donors to provide funds for projects costing a total of $312 million.

“The good news is that improving food security is cheaper than treating malnutrition,” he said.

The largest part of the 2008 CAP, which is almost $40 million less than in 2007, concerns projects related to food security as well as nutrition.

The region still has the highest under-five mortality rate in the world with some 1.5 million children under five in Niger, Mauritania, Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso suffering from acute under-nutrition, the UN World Food Programme deputy regional director Christine van Nieuwenhuyse said at the 2008 CAP launch. “The levels are even worse than in Darfur,” she said.

But in recent years donors and aid groups in West Africa have worked together better to address the causes of malnutrition, Ludovic de Lys said. The solution is not just a matter of setting up more nutritional feeding centres but ensuring that mother’s breast feed their infants longer and practice good hygiene as well as improving access to clean water and health services.

“We have definitely seen results,” Ludovic de Lys said.

The last crop harvests were also generally good in West Africa, WFP’s Van Nieuwonhuyse said although there are hidden food shortages in some areas.

A current rise in the price of cereals around the world is further threatening food security in the region, she said. “Families are paying higher prices for food but they don’t have the means to pay more.”

WFP is also paying higher prices for food aid but it does not have more money to cover the added costs. “That could mean less food for fewer beneficiaries,” she said.

dh/np

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