It was a mother’s worst nightmare: Aisha’s daughter Fatima was sick, and she wasn’t getting better. Fatima was severely underweight, and Aisha didn’t have the money to buy anything but millet for her baby. This West African staple crop wasn’t providing the nutrition Fatima needed to grow and thrive, and Aisha knew it was only a matter of time before Fatima’s little body would give up.
Aisha and Fatima live in Niger in West Africa, where the majority of the population survives on a diet of primarily millet porridge. Approximately one-fifth of the population of the region lives in a constant state of crisis. As climate change accelerates, rainfall in the already dry region has become more unpredictable. Over the past decade, Niger has experienced catastrophic droughts. Driven by their own hunger, birds, locusts, and other pests descended on the already meager crops farmers had struggled to produce. This led to a spike in the cost of food. With households already spending upwards of 80 percent of their income on food, families like Aisha and Fatima were barely surviving.
people are affected by continued food insecurity in West Africa
Today, there are 821 million undernourished people in the world. In West Africa, more than 18 million people are affected by continued food insecurity, and over 1 million people are suffering from severe malnutrition. Among these, women and children are the most vulnerable, especially children under 2 years old, like Fatima.
Luckily, Aisha had access to a nutrition clinic. During Fatima’s two-month stay at the clinic, she gained enough weight to be stable, but she was still too small. In the months that followed Fatima’s hospitalization, Aisha and mothers like her benefited from CARE’s Maman Lumiere programs, which aim to improve the health and nutritional status of infants and children. Through a combination community organization and cooking class, mothers exchange nutritious recipes and teach each other how to better utilize nutritional benefits from various foods. In addition, mothers like Aisha who participate in savings and loan groups sponsored by CARE can afford the nutritionally dense foods their children and communities need to thrive.
CARE has been involved in Niger for over 20 years, providing necessary assistance, relief, and long-term planning. CARE’s emergency response and recovery program have provided access to food via cash transfer and direct distribution, and have improved access to water, sanitation, and hygiene. Clinics, like the one that saved Fatima’s life, provide emergency care and training for healthcare professionals as well as families in beneficial nutritional practices. Partnering with these at-risk communities, CARE helps to deliver essential household items, hygiene supplies, and health training to those who need them most.
Aisha saw many babies die during the two months she and Fatima stayed at the clinic. Fatima survived, and the education Aisha received on nutritional health helped Fatima grow stronger every day. Aisha has been passing on her knowledge to other mothers in the hopes that someday, hunger will no longer plague the children of Niger. CARE’s work in the world’s most vulnerable communities is essential to achieving those hopes.