Living in a country that wastes over one million tonnes of food each year, it’s difficult to conceive of a situation where you could go hungry. And with food so readily available it’s hard to imagine not being able to find food when you need it. But as difficult as it is to conceive, hunger exists and it’s a daily reality for almost 795 million people. Currently one in nine people around the world are continuously hungry and on a recent trip to Niger I witnessed the real extent of hunger and its cruel consequences.
Malnourished at just seven months
I meet Nadiya Imbrahima (18) and her daughter Loubaba (seven months) in a bustling Concern supported health clinic in rural Nigerien village. Loubaba is sitting contently on her mother’s knee but she is thin and delicate, and visibly suffering from malnutrition.
Nadiya informs me that Loubaba has been suffering from diarrhea for the past three days.
“I was really worried about her before I brought her here,” tells Nadiya, “I was afraid for her life – I didn’t know if she would survive.”
She tells me that Loubaba weighs just 4.7kg and her upper arm measures 9cm – a clear and worrying indication of severe acute malnutrition.
Thankfully Loubaba is quickly assessed in the health centre and provided with the appropriate treatment and therapeutic food to ensure that she returns to a healthy weight without complications.
Food shortages affect the whole family
Nadiya is determined to remain strong for her sick and vulnerable baby, but eventually she tells me about her own daily struggle with hunger: “I haven’t eaten anything at all today before coming here,” she says, “All we can afford is millet and most days I survive on a bowl of millet porridge a day.”
She continues to detail the chronic food shortages her family are faced with, “We planted beans and maize but there was no rain and now we have no harvest and no food to eat.” Casting her eyes down to her little baby Nadiya says, “I feel miserable and helpless that I cannot provide enough food to feed my children.”
Chronic food shortages
The day after meeting Nadiya and Loubaba in the health centre I travel cross-country to visit them again. The route is a sand track surrounded by nothing but sparse tuffs of green vegetation. The arid land looks dry and barren, and I’m struck by how difficult it must be to farm. When I arrive at Nadiya’s house she invites me to sit down next to Loubaba, her daughter Nassayba (three) and her husband Hassane (19).
Seven month old Loubaba looks as thin and lethargic as she did yesterday and as I sit down her eyes fill with tears. “She’s crying because she’s hungry,” says Nadiya, “she hasn’t eaten today – none of us have eaten yet.”
Nadiya looks tired and defeated – it is clear that hunger is taking its toll. “Sometimes I am so tired from hunger that I can’t work,” Nadiya tells us. Unfortunately Nadiya has no option but to get up every morning and continue working. “Everyone is poor and no one can help,” she says accepting the reality of her situation.
As Loubaba continues to cry, Nadiya tells us that she often spends the night crying:
“The baby doesn’t sleep because she is so hungry,” says Nadiya rocking her baby in attempt to soothe her tears.
Defeated by hunger
Nadiya’s husband, Hassane details the family’s chronic lack of food. He says;
“We went ten days last month without eating and this increases every month. I feel desperate and helpless, it’s my job to support my family and I can’t do this. It’s frustrating, I don’t know what I can do, how can I get out of this hole we are in?”
Hassane’s desperation is searing. Beneath his white shirt, his frame is skeletal and there is a deep sadness in his eyes. He is frustrated and agitated about his powerlessness – he wants to do more for his family but he can’t.
Every day is a struggle for this young couple. “I feel helpless and desperate,” says Nadiya “I’m worried that we will wake up tomorrow and there will be no food to eat.” The struggle to survive is clearly becoming more difficult with every passing day. “How can I be happy if I have nothing to eat?” she asks.
No food, no future
Nadiya and Hassane have yet to reach their twenties. This young couple should be in the prime of their lives, excited about what the future might hold. But instead they are being consumed by a daily battle with hunger. They go to sleep at night not dreaming about the future, but worried they might not have enough food to survive tomorrow. There is enough food produced in the world to feed everyone, but somehow Nadiya, Hassane and 795 million other people are going hungry.
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