“The situation is escalating and we aren’t even at the peak of the hungry season between harvests yet,” said Sarah Carr, a World Vision nutritionist serving in Niger, West Africa.

“Young boys are banging on my door at night begging for food,” said Carr. “That’s something I’ve never seen in Africa, even here in Niger where people are so poor.”

Drought and locust swarms destroyed most of the crops, driving the price of food out of reach for the poor.

Ousseini’s twin brother died of malnutrition the day before this photo was taken. Ousseini lives in a village near Maradi in eastern Niger.

Officials estimate 2.5 to 3.6 million people in Niger may go hungry.

At risk are an estimated 800,000 children under age five, including more than 100,000 who are severely malnourished. World Vision staff members fear that 10 percent of the children in some areas could die.

Food aid and long-term solutions

World Vision was one of the first to respond to the famine. Food is being distributed at more than seven sites in the south around Zinder.

Aid includes an outpatient therapeutic feeding program in Zinder for up to 5,000 malnourished children. Severely malnourished children who have medical problems are evacuated to a hospital in Maradi—about four hours away by road.

Projects providing long-term solutions to the food crisis include food-for-work agro-forestry programs (planting drought-resistant Acacia trees) and stocking 120 cereal banks and building 25 more (loaning grain to farmers who pay back with grain from the next harvest).

Tough times until October harvest, at least

Olivier Saugy of World Vision said, “Even in good years, people have little to eat during this season and we see cases of malnutrition. But this year, because of the drought, the number of malnourished children under five is soaring in Zinder.”

Most families are trying to exist on one meal a day. An increasing number of people are fleeing south into Nigeria to get away from the famine.