WFP doubts it can feed Niger's hungry as funds dry up

by george-fominyen | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 17 August 2010 11:06 GMT

DAKAR (AlertNet) - The World Food Programme (WFP) will not be able to help all of the 8 million people in Niger going hungry this year unless it receives more money from donors, a spokesman for the U.N. agency said.

Aid organisations are struggling to tackle a food crisis in the country after poor rains last year left millions short of food, with no let-up in needs until the next harvest in October.

"With the limited resources, it will be very difficult, even impossible to meet the initial target (of 7.9 million people) unless donors come forward as quickly as possible," the spokesman said.

WFP needs a further $88 million to be able to feed the nearly 8 million people until the end of the year.

The lack of funds has forced the agency to distribute food aid, first of all, to children under two, who are most vulnerable to potentially life-threatening malnutrition.

"With the limited resources, we have made the difficult decision to concentrate on these children and their families in the most affected regions," the spokesman said.

According to a national survey in June, about 17 percent of Niger's children under five are not getting the vitamins and nutrients they need to stay healthy - well above the 15 percent that define a crisis situation - and the rate is higher still among under-twos in some parts of the country.

WFP's decision means that in the meantime, the remaining 60 percent of the hungry people will have to rely on Niger's "woefully under-resourced" government and other aid groups for much-needed food supplies, Oxfam said in a statement.

"No humanitarian agency should be forced into such an impossible position, especially one backed by the entire international community," said Raphael Sindaye, Oxfam's deputy director for West Africa.

"This is an appalling situation. We have known about this crisis for months and yet more than a million people in Niger will continue to starve over the coming weeks and perhaps months."

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