The United Nations has appealed for more than $55 million for the humanitarian crisis in Niger and said millions more will be needed to combat hunger in the neighbouring Sahel region.
The emergency appeal to help Niger through December has been increased to $80.9 million, but $25.4 million has already been contributed or committed by donors, UN deputy emergency relief coordinator Margareta Wahlstrom said.
UN agencies are already providing food to about 50,000 people in Niger and hope with the additional funds to help 2.5 million people desperately in need of food, she said.
Those most at risk are 32,000 severely malnourished children, 160,000 moderately malnourished children, and more than 261,000 pregnant women and nursing mothers, Wahlstrom said.
"The indications are already positive in terms of resources for this appeal," she told a news conference.
More than 150,000 children are
at risk of starving to death
Two weeks ago, UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland said Niger was facing "an acute humanitarian crisis" in which children were dying because the world community ignored UN appeals for urgent aid. Some 150,000 of those children will die soon "unless we really get to step up our operation," he warned.
Wahlstrom cited figures from the medical relief agency Doctors Without Borders saying 10 to 15 malnourished children were dying every week.
On the margin
The landlocked country of nearly 12 million people, one of the poorest in the world, was devastated by an invasion of locusts that ate everything green last year and was then hit by drought that lasted until early July.
Wahlstrom said drought, locust and some market factors were also affecting other countries in the Sahel, the semiarid strip south of the Sahara desert, especially Mali, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.
Mali needs food aid for 1.1 million people, including 5000 children suffering from acute malnutrition, she said.
Wahlstrom (R) said more aid
would likely be secured
In Burkina Faso, 500,000 people need assistance and UN evaluations of the situation on the ground are taking place there and in Mauritania where the UN World Food Programme has already appealed for $30 million.
"These are some of the poorest countries in the world," Wahlstrom said. "People are living on the margin" and their ability to balance their traditional lifestyles with modern markets and open borders is tenuous."
Not too late
A top UN children's fund official visited the worst-affected state of Niger and said she had seen infants dying.
Donors are accused of failing to
respond to earlier calls for aid
"When you see a child dying in front of your eyes, that means the food supply and malnutrition situation in the country is very serious," said Unicef Deputy Director General Rima Salah, who visited Niger along with Canadian International Cooperation Minister Aileen Carroll.
However "it is not too late to save many more children," she said, after visiting an emergency medical feeding centre in the southern town of Maradi.
Even as the two women visited the centre, run by the Doctors without Borders medical charity, a baby suffering from chronic malnutrition died.
The UN World Food Programme more than tripled the amount
of emergency aid it is seeking for southern Niger - the centre of the crisis - from $16 million six months ago to $57.6 million. It has received $21.6 million so far.
On Tuesday, the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation appealed for $4 million to provide Niger's farmers with seeds for the next planting season and to replenish the livestock of families who have lost or been forced to sell their animals.
Wahlstrom stressed the importance of replenishing livestock which is the livelihood of most of those affected by hunger in Niger.
Among other UN agencies in the emergency appeal, the World Health Organisation is seeking $1.2 million for emergency health assistance and disease monitoring and the UN Population Fund is seeking $400,000 to assist the pregnant women and nursing mothers.
The first UN appeal for help in November got almost no response. Another appeal for $16 million in March got about $1 million. An appeal on 25 May for $30 million only started receiving major donations after television showed pictures of Niger's hungry and malnourished.