The latest Human Development Report ranks Niger bottom out of 188 countries on the human development index. The human development index is a composite indicator of socio-economic development, which takes into account countries’ health, education and income.
Despite some progress in reducing child malnutrition, recent statistics show that today 44% of children in Niger suffer from stunting and 18% from wasting. The prevalence of malnutrition is particularly high among children from the poorest households, from rural households residing and from households in the Diffa region. In addition, acute malnutrition in children under five continues to be persistently high. Rates of acute malnutrition exceeded emergency thresholds in 2005 and 2010.
These statistics imply that a significant effort is required – along with better governance and accountability – to scale-up the fight against malnutrition. It is vital for Niger’s socio-economic development. It is also essential for the country’s performance against the targets set out in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – including SDG 2 on hunger and nutrition.
Niger’s recently approved national policy framework for nutrition security (Politique nationale de sécurité nutritionnelle) with ambitious targets and policies to reduce malnutrition. It’s the first-ever time a national policy in Niger has set out a multisectoral approach to malnutrition.
However, Niger’s entire country’s health system remains underfunded. If action plans are to reflect the real costs of treating of malnutrition, the government will have to significantly increase its budget in order to provide adequate funding. Free healthcare for children under five and good-quality care are crucial for the prevention and treatment of malnutrition in Niger. But delayed disbursements from the government to service providers affects the availability and quality of all healthcare services – including community-based management of acute malnutrition.
In this context, tracking nutrition commitments and influencing future budget allocations become a key advocacy priority for civil society organisations.
Together with partners, Save the Children has been working at both national and regional levels in Niger to advocate for an improved planning and budgeting for nutrition. We visited Save the Children’s office in Niamey in April 2016. Here are a few examples of the steps being taken by the country office and partners to improve children’s nutrition:
Campaigning during presidential elections: During the election campaign in February and March 2016, Save the Children worked with members of the Alliance Nutrition to put the spotlight on malnutrition. A joint advocacy campaign ‘My life, My future, Nutrition’ succeeded in engaging presidential and parliamentary candidates, with three presidential candidates committing to prioritise nutrition in a pre-election ‘Manifesto’. There is real hope that these commitments have laid the ground for Save the Children’s future advocacy to convince country’s leadership to prioritise nutrition in their policies.
Engaging parliamentarians: the Scaling-Up for Nutrition (Tous Unis pour la Nutrition, or TUN) Network – which we are a member of – has been engaging newly elected Members of Parliament to raise the profile of nutrition – in order to have an impact on nutrition policies and budgetary allocations. Following the recent presidential and parliamentary elections, it is now critical to revitalise and mobilise parliamentary networks and to identify new nutrition champions at the national level. Similar work should be carried out at the sub-national level in the context of forthcoming local elections.
Budget analysis training in Maradi: During the same visit, Dr Sylvia Szabo, and Dr Garba Dandano Ibrahim, Project Director of TUN, led training on budget analysis and advocacy in Maradi. In preparation for the training, the country office was central in coordinating participant nominations and engaging partners in Niamey and the regions. During the week leading up to the training, Save the Children’s National Advocacy and Communication Officer Souley Harouna Issaka organised a number of meetings with partners from civil society, government and donors to help develop training content and engage them in budget analysis work. The training was well attended by regional committees of TUN. It featured content on budgetary process in Niger at the national and local levels, the importance of budget advocacy, and an overview of the budget analysis methodology and practical exercises. Innocent Ifedilichukwu, Advocacy & Campaign Coordinator with Save the Children in Nigeria, gave a presentation show-casing Nigeria’s experience in the budget analysis process. The TUN committees are now well equipped to conduct budget analysis at the national and sub-national level and thus generate evidence for nutrition advocacy.
Following the training, TUN will coordinate the regional committees to develop a plan of action for budget analysis. Once the plan is finalised, TUN will support the committees to carry out budget analysis in 2016.
The results of this analysis will feed into a national analysis report of allocations for nutrition. It’s expected that the analysis will inform policy-makers about gaps in nutrition planning and budgeting and, as a result, influence their policy-making and planning to improve the nutritional status of children.
To further support budgeting for nutrition, TUN is also planning to disseminate a synthesis report summarising results of multisectoral analysis of allocations to nutrition at the regional level in four regions.
Save the Children will continue informing the public, engaging with the media and empowering communities to keep child nutrition a key priority on the political agenda.
Given the current level of human development in Niger, the high rates of child malnutrition, and the persistent socio-economic inequalities, it is critical to invest in improved planning and budgeting. This will allow not only reducing the malnutrition burden, but also helping create effective accountability mechanisms and advance progress towards SDGs.