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Malnutrition is Real

This headline jumped out at me today when I looked at the All Africa site: "Annual 'Lean Season' Set to Strangle Sahel". Every year people plant their millet and pray for adequate rains to bring full abundant heads of grain. But even when the rainy season has been good, the harvest is never enough to get an entire family through the year until the next harvest. In a good year the grain may last until May. That means that no "free" (that is food they grew themselves and didn't have to buy) food is available from May until October. Not only is no food available, but those are also the months when they expend the most energy doing hard physical labor in their fields.

The article says "'Every year is a crisis year for the poorest people of the Sahel,' said Mustapha Darboe, World Food Porgramme Regional Director for West Africa. 'For too long this has been widely considered to be normal and acceptable. It is not. People should not be chronically short of their daily needs in the 21st century.'

"'Last year's crisis in the region, especially in Niger, was a wake-up call to everyone; invisible hunger and unchecked poverty kill people in West Africa,' he said."

The article goes on to say, "No country in the Sahel faces a more difficult lean season than Niger, where last year's crisis has left a deep scar, pushing thousands of the poorest further into poverty and debt."

Every year is difficult, but Niger has not had a chance to recover from last year's severe famine. These pictures of malnourished children (from are not an uncommon sight in Niger. Consider this. In Niger, according to the United Nations' Human Devlopment Index, 34% of the population is undernourished, 40% of children under five are underweight, and 17% of newborns are born underweight. 61.4% of the population lives on $1.00 a day and 85.3% lives on $2.00 a day.

This little girl by the flower pot is our neighbor. She is not grossly malnourished, but she is underweight. Her hair is dry and brittle and often yellowish in color. In this picture she is 5 years old and about the size of a 3 year old here in the US. Fortunately we're able to help her family with food or she would probably be severely malnourished. She's as cute as can be and I miss her!

Contrast this to the US where 15.3% of the children ages 6-11 are overweight and 15.5% of adolescents ages 12-19 are overweight. Here the headlines read "Overweight Kids: Schools Take Action", "Bullying Keeps Overweight Kids from Exercise", "Helping Your Overweight Child", "BlubberBusters: Overweight Kids site", and "Overweight children: Healthy Lifestyle Tips".

I'm not trying to lay a guilt trip on anybody. But I know as well as anybody about the abundance of food here in the US. I feel guilty myself when I think of how much I've spent on chocolate candy, my weakness and a real source of enjoyment. What if instead of buying chips and candy we don't need we sent that money to Samaritan's Purse ( , Compassion International ( , or World Vision ( Could I challenge you with that?

By the way, many of my Nigerien friends would think Americans are beautiful. They aspire to be fat and think it's beautiful because it is a sign of being rich enough to eat bountifully. They often tell me that if they were me they would make Yaaye (John) buy them a big bag of rice so they could get fat. One lady told me she thinks I'm pretty because I have big hips!! How do you like that for honesty?

But, seriously, it is hard for us to go from the poorest country in the world to one of the richest and soon we'll be going from one of the richest back to the poorest. And we'll be arriving during the lean time. We'll go from seeing overweight Americans to undernourished Nigeriens. We'll have hungry people at our door every day. We daily live with a certain amount of guilt when faced wtih the dichotomy of what we have and what our neighbors have (or should I say don't have). When you look at the pictures I've posted today, can you help but weep? Like I said, I'm not trying to put a guilt trip on you, but I don't want you to forget the rest of the world as we live in a prosperous one.

It is a land with large, properous cities that you did not build.

The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce.

You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig,

and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant.

When you have eaten your fill in this land,

be careful not to forget the LORD,

which rescued you from slavery....

Deuteronomy 6:10-12 NLT


Jane Stutzman said…
Your Malnutrition/Hunger article has been posted for just a couple of comments yet. What do we/can we say in response to these facts? When I thank God for what we have, I pray for those who don't and that we will care and share out of our abundance...and, Nancy, I am moved with compassion and will be sending a contribution to Samaritan's Purse. Do your people have clean water to drink?
Amanda said…
Thank you for that post. I expected to see more obvious signs of malnutrition when we were in Niamey but then again, Niamey has more food available. We did however still see kids with pot bellies and yellow hair so it was there, just not so in your face. It will be a hard transition back but the Lord will sustain you guys.
journeyer said…
I agree with Jane, I wasn't really sure what to say after reading your article. And even now that I have been thinking about it for a day, I am still not sure. . . thank you for the "wake up call".
Hannatu said…
Thanks, journeyer, for the link from your sight. I would just like to motivate people to be thankful for what they have, to live with less excess, to give more generously, to know what kinds of things we see frequently in Niger, to uphold us in prayer. Thanks.
Johnny Cuban said…
Massive over-copulation leads to over-population, and I don't really see why others have to pay the way for people that can't control their urges.

If they are too irresponsible to control their reproduction since they can't support 10 kids per family, then whose fault is that?

People need to be accountable for their actions. The problems in those nations have existed for hundreds of years, and the people there are expecting others to bail them out for the past 150 years of "Christian Ministries" in those nations.
Dusty Penguin said…
I beg to differ that the conditions present in Niger and many other African countries is solely or even largely due to irresponsibility or inability to control sexual urges. The cultural value system in third world countries is much different from the cultural value system of the modern western world. We esteem success and materialism. They esteem people, families, and children. Not only that, larger number of children are necessary to maintain living by sustenance farming. Their work output value exceeds their consumption value. These families are no different from the large farm families of a generation or two ago in the U.S. Not only that, these parents are aware that possibly as many as half of their children will not even live to adulthood. Another consideration is that their children are their retirement plan and their "old folk's home". They desire to have more than one child to help care for them in their elderly years. In addition, I believe that their value system is closer to being biblical in this area than that of most Americans. The Bible, while it does talk about stewardship and caring for your family, does not urge people to have only one or two children. On the contrary, the Bible talks about a quiver full. Realistically speaking, people starving in these regions are not starving because they have too many children. They are starving because of drought, grasshopper plagues, disease, and dehydration. Truthfully, for many of them, it doesn't matter if they have two children or ten. The amount of food that can be grown in those conditions is insufficient for even the smallest of families, and yet there is nowhere else for them to go and no other way for most to earn a living. The situation is extremely complex with many contributing factors and no easy answers.
Hannatu said…
Thanks, Natalie. I didn't respond to Johnny Cuban, but I'll tell you why in a separate e-mail. The fact is the reasons for malnutrition in Niger is extremely complicated. One of the main reasons is trying to eke out a living in a climate that gets about 10 inches of rain a year. Niger is also doing what they can to encourage birth control, so it can't be blamed entirely on having too many children. I would put more of the fault on polygamy. When a man has four wives and each wife has seven kids, well, yes, that's too many kids. But if one wife has seven or 10 kids, I don't see that as wrong.

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