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A stark portrait of what’s at stake in Niger

Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries, is facing its worst food crisis in five years. World Vision’s Ann Birch gives a glimpse of Niger’s condition and what World Vision is doing to help. This account was written June 1 on the road to a nutritional program and health center.

July 2010



A community volunteer trained by World Vision weighs a malnourished baby at a health center in Koma Bangou, Niger.
A community volunteer trained by World Vision weighs a malnourished baby at a health center in Koma Bangou, Niger.
Photo ©2010 Ann Birch/World Vision

The last time I visited Koma Bangou, Niger, was two years ago. Back then, I thought it was one of the poorest and most desperate places I had ever seen.

Koma Bangou is a mining area — very hot, dry, and with poor access to drinking water. The community is made up of people who migrate from all over Niger and neighboring countries.

They are desperately poor, trying to make a living from what is, in effect, a non-productive mine. I am glad for the opportunity to go back to Koma Bangou, but very nervous at the same time. I am worried about what we will find, given the current drought and food crisis.

‘In Africa, everyone is looking to the sky’

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On the road to Koma Bangou, all the earth is orange — a really deep terracotta orange. The trees are very sparse, and as we get closer to Koma Bangou, the orange, sandy earth gives way to very rocky soil.

I remember a conversation I had with a colleague, Moussa, the day before. He told me that it has only rained two or three times so far this rainy season. Normally, it should start to rain in late April and continue through September. On hearing this, my heart sinks.

A large river bed on the road to Koma Bangou lies completely empty and dry. People and animals try to make use of the last remaining bits of water.
A large river bed on the road to Koma Bangou lies completely empty and dry. People and animals try to make use of the last remaining bits of water.
Photo ©2010 Ann Birch/World Vision
This isn’t just about communities trying to make it through the annual “lean season,” which are typically the months running up to the October harvest. It could mean that even this year’s planting and upcoming harvests are at risk. It’s not what I wanted to hear.

We drive by another river bed; this time, there is a small amount of water in it. Others are completely dry. We pass two Fulani herders, and the angular bones of their skinny cattle stick out.

Again, I think of a conversation from the day before. “In Africa, everyone is looking to the sky,” someone had said to me. “Communities do not understand the rain patterns anymore.”

How can they, I wonder, given the changes in seasonal rainfall?

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Help for the hungry

We arrive at the healthcare center in Koma Bangou; it’s time to start working. The community volunteers and health workers trained by World Vision were in full swing when we arrived, already weighing and assessing the children and babies for malnutrition.

I start to photograph the babies, and I feel my stomach turn over every time I hold the camera up and see another skinny body in front of me. It seems like baby after baby is suffering from severe malnutrition.

The day we spent in Koma Bangou, 13 new cases of acute severe malnutrition were identified — bringing the current total of severe cases in this one healthcare center to 53 in just three weeks. I am told by health staff at the center that last year, there were just 22 severe malnutrition cases for the entire year. The comparison is startling.


Learn more


>> Read more about Niger and World Vision’s work in this struggling country.
>> Read more about global hunger and how World Vision is responding to this emergency.

Four ways you can help

>> Please keep the children and families of Niger in prayer as they cope with a massive food crisis fueled by severe drought. Pray for World Vision’s efforts to bring relief and comfort to those who are gravely suffering.
>> Contact your members of Congress. Ask them to support the Global Food Security Act, which would make a significant contribution toward reducing hunger by investing in sustainable agriculture and nutrition programs.
>> Donate now to help World Vision deliver relief and support to Niger. Your gift will help provide life-saving food and care to children and families affected by hunger and malnutrition in one of the world’s poorest countries.
>> Sponsor a child in Niger. Your love and support for a boy or girl in need will help provide life-saving essentials that form the foundation of a hopeful future, like nutritious food and clean water.

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