Hope for starving of Niger as aid gets in

Nick Abrahams is Save the Children's food distribution manager in Tessoua, in southern Niger, a region at the heart of the food crisis. Last week he started work on a massive distribution programme which, within the space of a few days, was feeding thousands of starving children. This is his day-by-day account of an extraordinary week
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The Independent Online

Sunday 31 July

I checked out of the hotel in Maradi, the regional capital, and travelled in 40C heat to Tessaoua. We had to find drivers, guards and work out how we are to redistribute our food as quickly as possible.

In the afternoon a truck of 41 tons of food aid was off-loaded into our warehouse. The food, flown out of the UK on Thursday, is mostly Plumpynut, a peanut butter spread for malnourished children. They need just one sachet a day, costing £1.05 each.

Monday 1 August

We spent the first day training in the office with the new recruits. The workers, all local, were shown the basics about how to deal with children, possibly children who have been abused, and what to do in emergencies.

Tuesday 2 August

Day 2 of the training. We explained how to weigh and measure the children. It is crucial to spot the signs if a child is malnourished and in need of extra food. In the afternoon we went out to some of the villages to tell them we would be coming and asked them to prepare the most malnourished children. The way to get the message out is to speak to the chief and council of elders in each place. Things are so bad we saw people boiling up weeds and leaves, which have no nutritional value. The children said it made their stomachs ache. New staff from London arrived; one was immediately ill. We have five staff in three bedrooms.

Wednesday 3 August

Today, our Sudanese nutritionist Hassan woke up with the bug. This is our final day of training, and it is essential to make sure that our stores are ready for tomorrow, the first day of distribution. We loaded the vehicles and checked the fuel. Yet more meetings, this time with the regional government. I have had it with the toilets in the offices, a long-drop pit latrine.

Thursday 4 August

The first day of real activity. We're aiming to do two clinics handing out food a day, using a couple of health centres as distribution points. Most of the people live within 15 kilometres, a two-and-a-half hour walk for people in the furthest villages. A huge number of starving people turned up, far more than expected. Overall we're looking to treat between 20,000 and 25,000 children in 100 sessions. But it is a slow process. Each child has to be weighed and registered before any supplementary food is given out. The big lesson of the day is to double the number of staff at each centre. People have to wait for a very long time. The other lesson from it is to arrange more shade.

Friday 5 August

We still don't have the tarpaulins we need to protect the waiting children from the sun, although they are on the way. As it turned out we needed them for another reason: in the late afternoon there was a massive thunderstorm and torrential rain - the first rain all week, even though it is the rainy season. We had the same huge numbers as yesterday, but it all went more smoothly because we concentrated on one clinic and doubled the staff. It took 10 of us just to control the crowds. If we think a child needs help, we hand out a week's supply of food, including a vitamin enriched cereal, Unimix, to put in with cooking oil and hot water. We also give out soap. Forty tons of food was flown in.

Saturday 6 August

We did one clinic and went to the job centres to recruit staff, our biggest need, so that we can do two. We're still expecting the tarpaulins, and four new Land Cruisers which ferry food and supplies in half the time. Our next task is to find rooms for the staff we so desperately need.

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