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"There is nothing to eat"

Niger, March 15, 2012

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During the two weeks I recently spent with in Niger with our emergency response teams, I kept hearing the same thing over and over: There is nothing to eat.

On the surface, this situation isn't as evident as the other crises I've worked on, but when I traveled into the small villages in the hard-hit southwestern Filingue and Ouallam regions, I saw how bad this deepening food crisis really is. With a severe drought and a failed harvest last October, there is simply no food. Women like Zeynabou Hama told me how their families are eating tree leaves just to kill the hunger pains.

Zeynabou is just 17 and has a two-year-old son, Salman, who is suffering from severe malnutrition. She told me how after she married at 15, her husband left to work in the Ivory Coast. He was supposed to send money home to help the family, but in the past two years he has sent the equivalent of just $4 USD.

When we spoke, she was trying to breastfeed her baby, but with no nutritious food to eat herself, she's had trouble producing enough milk to keep him nourished. Now she spends her days out in the 100-degree heat, foraging for wild seeds and grass, with Salman strapped to her back.

The locals know this is just the beginning of the suffering; even if the rains come this year, the next harvest isn't until October. Mercy Corps is supporting nutritional screening centers where parents can take their children to be evaluated for malnutrition and get referred to government health centers for emergency food. We're also working on providing increased emergency food distribution soon.

These efforts are crucial to stave off the worst, but there is still much to be done to strengthen local communities against future cycles of drought and famine. The clock is ticking, and I know we can help create a more resilient future for Zeynabou and Salmen and the thousands of families like them struggling with hunger.