In this country on the front line of climate change, where population growth outpaces food production and two-thirds of the population lives in extreme poverty, malnutrition is chronic and nutrition crises are becoming increasingly frequent. Niger ranks second last in the UN’s Human Development Index with high infant mortality, malnutrition and low levels of education. Niger has made significant progress in reducing child deaths since 1998 and has embraced a policy of free health care for under-5's, but immense challenges remain to sustain these advances. After severe nutrition crises in 2005, 2008 and 2010, Niger’s government heeded the early warning signs of a new crisis in 2011 and called on the humanitarian community for help. 2012 also saw cholera outbreaks, floods, a 33% increase in malaria cases and the influx of some 60,000 refugees from northern Mali. Given the impoverishment of vulnerable households as a result of continued high prices, nutritional needs will remain extremely high in 2013.
Chronically high malnutrition rates in Niger caused by a lack of access to food for the poorest mean that the European Commission has funded humanitarian aid projects in Niger every year for several years. In 2012 ECHO supported operations which were part of the response plan of Niger's government with early warning analysis to prevent food insecurity degenerating into a disaster. It contributed significantly to the admission of more than 700,000 malnourished children to feeding centres, 300,000 of whom received locally produced ready-to-use therapeutic food. Food assistance to the poorest included cash transfers to 245,000 people - enabling them to buy food while supporting the local economy – and general food distributions to 135,000 people when and where markets were empty. Since disease and malnutrition go hand in hand, integrated medical-nutritional care for children under five and mothers was also encouraged. Interventions to improve water, sanitation and hygiene conditions were funded following a cholera outbreak and severe floods which affected nearly half a million people. ECHO also helps partners meet the basic needs of Malians who have settled in 3 refugee camps and various other sites.