Food aid bound for Niger

A World Food Program plane carrying 80 tons of nutritional biscuits and logistical equipment is also preparing to leave Italy bound for Niger’s capital, Niamey.

From there, a convoy of trucks will carry supplies 660 km south to Maradi, one of the hardest-hit areas.

According to the United Nations, Niger is suffering from a devastating drought as well as the worst locust invasion in 15 years which has ruined crops and grazing land.

The UN World Food Program’s country director for Niger, Giancarlo Cirri, called the situation “some of the worst hunger I have ever witnessed.”

WFP plans to deliver 23,000 tons of food to 19 famine-stricken districts in Niger during a five-week period. International food aid began arriving last week.

Dr Vanessa Remy-Piccolo, a volunteer with Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, is on her first mission outside her home country of France.

“It’s so sad,” she said. “Many children are dying, and more will die before this crisis is over.”

WFP’s chief logistics officer, Pierre Carrasse, said, “The real problem has not been getting the food to the hungry but getting the donations to pay for the food.”

Appeals in November, March and May had failed to generate enough aid.

UN officials said A$11.85m has so far been committed, but this represents only about 30 percent of the total amount needed to meet the population’s needs.

The UN estimates 1.2 million people, including 800,000 children, face an immediate risk of strarvation, while 3.5 million people, about a quarter of Niger’s population could be facing food shortages.

Aid agency Oxfam said the famine could have been prevented if there had been an emergency fund, despite the slowness of the international community to respond to appeals.

Oxfam’s proposal for an emergency fund is on the agenda for a special United Nations summit in September.