The "hunger season" came early to Niger this year, forcing these women to trudge long hours across the desert to a clinic providing emergency food aid -- enriched cornmeal and vegetable oil -- for their severely malnourished children.
Not all problems in Africa are the result of war, natural disaster, disease and corruption. Niger is at peace and had abundant rains last fall. It also has a relatively well-regarded government, especially compared with its oil-rich and corrupt West African neighbors. Simply put, the problem is that Niger suffers from chronic poverty in which a marginal existence can easily tip into catastrophe. As a result, nearly 3 million of Niger's 12 million people face acute malnutrition, and more than two-thirds of them are children.
This looming crisis probably will be a surprise to many Americans, who, if they know of Niger at all, recall only its part in the controversy over the Bush administration's claims that Iraq tried to buy "yellowcake" uranium here.
Despite the desperation, foreign aid has been slow to arrive and food centers
are running low. For Foure Souley, the cycle of hunger is winding inexorably
toward her 2-year-old daughter. The child is so weak that she cannot keep
her head up. Souley waits for help at a special feeding center for children
near death. Weighing only 9 pounds, the child looks like a small, broken
doll as she sits in her mother's lap.
Copyright by Samuel Loewenberg
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