Despite little media coverage al Qaeda-linked Islamist groups have been consolidating and extending their grip across northern Mali for several months. Jihadist fighters have reportedly been crossing Mali's porous borders described by Malians as having come from as far afield as Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan.
The emergency in Mali has different characteristics than in Niger. There are no camps or large scale food programmes that one sees in the media where thousands of women queue for rations. However, one of the ways in which it is manifested is in child labour. Thousands of children have dropped out of school to go find work to help support the family.
During the food crisis, nearly 400,000 children in Niger are at risk of severe acute malnutrition because they have not had sufficient food to eat or a balanced diet. At the Tillaberi CRENI (hospital for children) built by Plan and managed by the government, I've met infants severely malnourished and tottering on the brink of death.
In the space of 10 months, Niger has been hit by a food crisis brought on by high market prices and poor harvests, a refugee crisis triggered by conflict in neighbouring Mali, followed by a cholera outbreak and now devastating floods. It has left many in this West African state wondering when the next disaster is and what could it possibly be?
There are no proper words to describe the heartbreaking sight of a malnourished child. No image on TV can prepare you for the sheer lightness of their bodies, their minuscule wrists, their over-sized, slightly bulging heads; the breathtaking shock of realising that the cute baby who looks newborn is actually nearly two years old. Malnourishment is not something that enters our world very often. Ours is a place where 60 stone teenagers must be hoisted out of their homes by the local fire service because they no longer fit through their front doors. It's a place where five-year-old girls worry themselves silly about being thinner, aspiring to a 'body ideal' that's estimated to be not physically achievable by 95% of the population.
Even for the non football fans amongst us, it would have been hard to not get caught up in the drama that unfolded on our screens over the weekend as Manchester City clinched the Premiership title from their neighbours by the narrowest of margins. So dramatic were those last few moments, the sense of elation and despair of the fans and players was almost palpable. In its finest hour, football really can make you feel like you are part of something big.
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