One hunger crisis unfolds as another subsides in Africa

The historic drought that devastated the Horn of Africa last year with widespread hunger and even famine is subsiding. But on the other side of the continent, in West Africa, a similar crisis is just beginning.

Kenya photo and story by Lucy Murunga. Mauritania photo and story by Jonathan Bundu.
Published February 15, 2012 at 12:00am PST

Kenya

In March 2011, 10-month-old Janet Aroo was referred to a World Vision-supported nutritional therapy program. At the time, she weighed just 11 pounds. The average weight of a properly nourished baby her age is almost twice as much. But Janet was suffering at the hands of an intensifying food crisis and drought across the Horn of Africa.

Nurses quickly determined that the girl was malnourished, and she began receiving rations of Plumpy’Nut™ , a peanut-based, nutritionally fortified paste used to counteract malnutrition.

Janet’s mother, Esther, reports that her daughter’s health, including her weight, has improved significantly in the months since she was first examined.

“She was very light when she [had] first taken ill. She looked tired and frail all the time, she did not have an appetite for anything, and all she did was cry,” Esther says. “This Plumpy’Nut has really boosted her weight and health.”

Nutritional therapy is especially important for little Janet, who has a potentially life-threatening condition in which fluid builds up in her brain. Leah, a World Vision nurse, has been monitoring the little girl’s progress.

“Due to the illness she has, Janet’s weight keeps fluctuating,” says Leah. “The illness makes her more susceptible to malnutrition, [which is] the reason she is still in [the] program.”

Despite these challenges, her mother is encouraged. “Janet can utter a few words here and there…she can hold things and even play with them, something she never did before,” says Esther.

Janet’s story mirrors that of so many other vulnerable children pushed to the brink of starvation in a region that has suffered its worst drought in 60 years. Though rains have returned, hunger continues to threaten lives.

“When we lack food, all my family can eat is boiled wild fruits,” says Esther. “The wild fruits are not nutritious, and most of the time, Janet is attacked by diarrhea. This also makes her an easy target for malnutrition.”

World Vision continues its relief efforts in the Horn of Africa, providing emergency aid for children like Janet, while focusing on long-term food security.

Mauritania

Magfoula fears for the life of her son, Teyib. He was already saved from starvation once, but the latest drought in West Africa has put him at severe risk again.Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the continent, a similar crisis is just unfolding. In West Africa, failed rains mean poor or non-existent harvests — and in agricultural societies, these can mean the difference between life and death.

Magfoula and her son, Teyib, are among the tens of thousands of families facing food shortages, hunger, malnutrition, and the fear of what will happen if help does not arrive soon.

“When our rice is finished, and if we don’t get any external help,” says Magroula, “my first and only child for now will die.”

In his less than two years of life, Teyib has already been saved from starvation once at a World Vision-supported health center.

“When Teyib was brought to the center, he weighed [less than 10 pounds] — not a normal weight for a 15-month-old,” recalls Oumar, the head of the local health post.

The doctors admitted Teyib to the health center. He received vitamins and nutritional supplements, and his mother received nutritional education.

At the end of three weeks, Teyib had more than doubled his weight, gaining more than 13 pounds. He was feeling stronger and ready to go home.

But, with the failed rains and low harvests, his mother isn’t able to put what she learned into practice — and Teyib is again losing weight.

Magfoula is afraid for her son once again. “I was happy that my Teyib gained some weight,” she says. “but, with the drought situation, he has become malnourished again.”

Learn more

Read updates on our response to the drought and food crisis in West Africa and the Horn of Africa on the World Vision Blog.

Three ways you can help

Please pray for children, families, and communities across Africa who have been hit hard by the droughts and food shortages there. Pray for the return of rain and healthy harvests, particularly in West Africa, and pray for assistance to reach those in greatest need.

Make a one-time gift to help provide life-saving food and care to hungry children like Magfoula and Janet. Your donation will help provide emergency food aid, agricultural assistance, clean water, nutritional training, and more.

Give monthly to help care for hungry children. A ongoing emergency like the food crisis across Africa requires a long-term response. Your monthly gift will help us bring assistance to those suffering most.