Burkina Faso: playing with numbers

Not into maths? Neither am I – I actually try to avoid having to deal with numbers. The way I see it, the myth of journalists not being good with numbers is not a myth but the simple truth.

There are figures that I struggle more with than others. And then there are figures that are simply unpleasant to deal with.

I’ve been following the food crisis in west Africa since its very onset, and that means figures. Both unpleasant and pleasant figures, because behind every number there is a person of flesh and blood.

Numbers rising

I’ve watched as the numbers of the affected has risen from 9 million to 13, from 15 million to the current figure; more than18 million. These are big numbers to get your head around.

There are 246 million people living in the Sahel region and out of those, more than 18 million are at risk of hunger . Most of them, or 6.4 million, live in Niger, while the lowest number of the affected are in Gambia, or 240,000. Is 240,000 a low number?

My organisation, Save the Children, plans to reach 1.5 million of the affected. That’s 8% of the total number of those that are thought to be at risk in all nine countries affected.

Everyone is affected

I am currently in Burkina Faso, where over 2 million are affected. If anything is clear, from the 20 interviews or so that I’ve had with Save the Children staff and beneficiaries, it is that everyone is affected – and Burkina Faso has 17.2 million inhabitants.

In 52 health centres in the Kaya district in Burkina Faso that I just visited, all children under five years get free treatment, and on top of that, Save the Children trains staff and volunteers and raises awareness on health and nutrition.

Last month I visited Niger for four days. On average a woman in Niger gives birth to 7.1 children in her lifetime and she also stands a one in six chance of losing a child before it reaches the age of five.

That means that, statistically speaking, every woman in Niger loses a child.

This is confirmed by nearly all the women, I spoke to while in Niger. Where I come from, we say that no one should live to see one’s child die.

For £7, you can treat a malnourished child with highly nutritious peanut paste for one week. Now that’s a low number.

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  • 18 Million is a staggering number, and to be honest is just so sickening. Good luck to the team, and the children.