During the last eight weeks, while I’ve been in Niger, I’ve often been overwhelmed by the scale of the problems people face here. It’s not just the current food crisis and the number of people who are going hungry (7.9 million) now but also what the future has in store.
Most Nigeriens live life on a permanent and precarious tight rope and it doesn’t take much for this tight rope to wobble and people to lose their footing. More often than not there’s no safety net or soft landing, which is reflected in the high child and maternal mortality rates (1 in 6 children die before they reach the age of five and 1 in 7 women die in or as a cause of child birth).
I’ve found it incredibly depressing seeing the level and scale of poverty people are living in (more than 50% of the population live in severe poverty) and how monumentous the job is to change this, particularly in the face of food price rises, climate change and desertification.
But every now and again I’ve met someone who has totally inspired me with their passion and commitment and it’s this that gives me hope for the future of Niger.
But it can’t be achieved by inspirational individuals alone – every one of us has our part to play and our world leaders need to keep the promises they’ve made to countries such as Niger.
Dr Morou, a doctor who works tirelessly in one of Save the Children’s intensive care clinics for severely malnourished children is one of these people.
Despite seeing an increasing number of children being admitted to his clinic each day and despite seeing an increase in the severity of the cases he is still full of energy and passion for his work, and always goes that extra mile for the women and children in his care.
Every time I visit him and his clinic I come away inspired.
He tells me what motivates him. “My motivation is that I’m a health worker, I am a doctor. I made an oath to provide health care to those who need it the most. And it’s this oath that gives me strength. Today even if I don’t go home until four in the morning, if someone calls me at 4:05am and they need me, I’ll come back. Because I took an oath, and I’m a humanitarian.”
And he tells me what he thinks of the food crisis and what support he, as a Nigerien, wants to see. “It breaks my heart. It breaks my heart to see this crisis. We know what contributed to this crisis, but you know very well that Niger is a poor country, it’s a third-world country.
“We don’t have the means to solve this on our own. But we’re trying to demonstrate that we’re making a genuine effort. The government has already begun selling grain at reduced prices, but nevertheless we still need help from the outside. Because without help from the outside we’ll never be able to cope with this food crisis.
“We’re truly putting our future into your hands, and I believe that with support and good will we’ll be able to bring the necessary aid to help these impoverished families and to save the lives of children – so that the majority, at least 80 percent of these children will be able to celebrate their fifth birthday in good health.”
Nigeriens such as Dr Morou are working tirelessly to help their own people, and know what needs to be done to make sure many, many more Nigerien children can celebrate their fifth birthday.
But as he says, some outside help is needed.
Rachel Palmer is photography and film manager at Save the Children. She recently returned from Niger.
Save the Children has launched an appeal for £7 million