Courtesy of UN
In face of one of the most challenging droughts in history, Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, and several other countries in Africa’s Sahel region are left scrambling to provide effective, cost-efficient methods of combating malnutrition. To do this, governments, NGO’s, and UNICEF are looking back at the lessons of history, for guidance on what works – and on what doesn’t.
After drought and a locust infestation consumed virtually all crops in the Sahel in 2004 and 2005, the region was left with more than 3 million people in desperate need of food. As devastating as this experience was, it was more tragic for the legacy of health issues that it left behind. By the time the drought was over, some 800,000 children were affected, 160,000 of whom were malnourished and 32,000 of whom were severely malnourished.
Malnutrition in children is a development problem that lingers throughout the child’s lifetime. It affects virtually every element of an individual’s life, from physical and mental development to the capacity to fight disease. As malnutrition once again rears its ugly head on a broad scale in the Sahel, experts are working to ensure that the tragedy of 2004-2005 is not repeated, and that no children are sentenced to a lifetime of hardship from malnutrition today.
UNICEF is operating 850 health centers across Niger, and many more in the region, all of which are designed to ward off malnutrition. Staffed by trained health professionals and stocked with all the necessary equipment and supplies, these centers provide an invaluable service to those living through the drought.
“ I'm so happy because I'll be returning to my village with a living, healthy baby," said Ouma Abdul, whose daughter, previously unable to sit up and on the verge of death, was now exhibiting signs of full health.
Some of the experts working in the Sahel were there in 2005, and note the lessons learned between then and today. "Today we are experienced,” claimed Sa’a Amadou, the Head Nurse at a Center. “Whatever the situation, and one hopes that it will not be more catastrophic than 2005, but whatever the situation, we are prepared to face it."
UNICEF has reason to believe that these centers work. Because of them, and numerous other efforts in the Sahel to treat drought victims, the death rate due to malnutrition in some countries has dropped to 1.5 percent, and some 85 percent of all children admitted now recover from severe acute malnutrition.