18 July 2005

Niger: In Yet Another Alert, UN Warns of Food Crisis in Niger

In yet another alert on the worsening food crisis in Niger, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned today that 2.5 million people in around 3,000 villages, including 800,000 children, face shortages as supplies dwindle and the price of staples rises in the impoverished West African country.

"In Niger, several years of economic hardship or decline have also lowered people's capacity to deal with such shocks," the chief of FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System, Henri Josserand, said of the impoverished West African country, which has suffered the double blow of a poor rainy season and devastation to its crops and grazing land from the worst locust invasion in 15 years.

"This is why the crisis is now more acute in Niger than in other parts of the Sahel. People in affected areas are in critical need of seeds and enough food to carry them through until late October," he added, appealing for an urgent international response.

Last week, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) almost tripled the number of people it plans to feed through its emergency operation to 1.2 million.

Today, FAO said severe child malnutrition is increasing rapidly and the number of children supported by feeding centres is rising.

Out of 63 districts surveyed, 11 have some populations in 'extremely critical' situation, and in 16 districts the situation is considered as 'critical,' according to national estimates. Pastoralists, in particular, have difficulty accessing main food staples.

While there has been adequate rainfall in recent weeks and land preparation and planting are underway, availability of seeds in regions hard hit by drought and locusts remains limited. Desert locusts remain a serious threat, although FAO is not expecting a large-scale invasion this year.

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