Food aid arrives in Niger

Trucks have been unlaoding sacks of the staple cereal millet, as well as beans and cooking oil brought from the capital Niamey at a warehouse run by the UN’s World Food Program (WFP).

Another convoy has left for the country’s second city Zinder, where the food will be distributed to the local population and remote villages by charities CARE and World Vision.

“Our free distribution program will begin Wednesday in the areas identified as critical and extremely critical by the Niger government,” World Vision’s representative at Maradi, Clement Faye said.

World Vision will distribute a total of 4,320 tonnes of food from the WFP in two batches, in August and September.

CARE said it will start giving out food on Tuesday at Dakoro, north of Maradi.

Aid groups earlier said thousands of tonnes of food aree needed for Niger within the next few weeks if starving people are to live.

They said the aid that has been dispatched since the world woke up to the situation in Niger last month, in the wake of plagues of locusts and drought last year, was far from adequate.

“We have six to eight weeks to distribute food to 2.5 million people,”
said WFP spokesman Gian Carlo Cirri.

“If they are not helped by then, the situation could be much worse than it is today.”

Mr Cirri estimated that 23,000 tonnes of food will be needed in the stricken areas by September, deploring the fact that so far only a third of WFP’s aid program has been funded.

“The next harvests will not take place before the end of September and we don’t know if they will be good,” a representative of Niger’s ministry of agriculture said.

The United Nations estimates 2.5 million people in Niger are suffering from food shortages, of whom 32,000 children face death without food and medical treatment.

The UN on Friday increased fivefold to A$105 million its estimate of the money needed to tackle a “deteriorating” situation marked by an “increasing” mortality toll.