UN agency stepping up operations to feed millions of hungry people in Niger

A child in Niger awaits the food that will stop him sliding into malnutrition

20 July 2010 – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today said it is boosting the delivery of aid to Niger, where up to eight million people are experiencing severe food shortages as a result of a prolonged drought that has caused crop failure and livestock deaths, leaving communities destitute.

The announcement comes as aid groups in Niger launched a revised emergency humanitarian action plan requesting over $371 million to respond to the worsening situation, almost doubling the earlier requirement of $190 million.

With over $142 million received or committed, more than $229 million is still required to tackle the crisis, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which said today that the immediate priority is to provide food assistance until the next harvests in October.

“The drought in Niger is an unfolding catastrophe for millions of people and we are struggling against time to scale up quickly enough to reach the escalating number of hungry,” said WFP Executive Director, Josette Sheeran, who arrived in the West African country today on a fact-finding mission.

“I want to see for myself the scale of the needs in Niger and the challenges in WFP’s huge ramp-up of hunger operations – especially those targeting vulnerable young children,” she said.

The food and nutritional crisis in Niger has worsened since the last harvest in September 2009. Results of a national nutrition and child survival survey released in June showed that young children are under particular threat from malnutrition.

“We are massively scaling up special nutritional help for children under two years of age, whose brains and bodies face permanent damage from acute malnutrition,” Ms. Sheeran added.

WFP has been working with the Government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to expand its operations aiming to feed 7.9 million people until the end of this year. Rations being delivered to Niger include highly nutritious food supplements such as enhanced corn-soya blend and Plumpy’doz – a paste made of peanuts, oil, sugar and milk fortified with vitamins and minerals to help meet the nutritional needs of young children.

“For young children in Niger, the food we are providing is literally a life-saver,” Ms. Sheeran said. “But we are also taking measures to provide for the wider families so that nobody goes short, and the special nutritionally enhanced products we are providing for the very young can pack the optimum nutritional punch,” she added.

WFP needs $213 million for the scaled up operation in Niger, but only about half of the funds are available. While some food supplies can be purchased from neighbouring countries, the normal lead time to deliver food that is procured further afield is between two and three months, according to the agency.

“To meet the needs of the people of Niger, we are looking for urgent and immediate cash contributions from our donors,” Ms. Sheeran said. “The months of August and September are critical, and I am urging our supporters to help us mobilize the resources we need to feed the millions of hungry in Niger,” she said.

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