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UN Making Progress In Food Crisis In Niger

UN Making Progress In Food Crisis In Niger, But Raises Alarm Over Malawi

Although food assistance is finally coming into Niger after an initially slow response, the United Nations emergency relief coordinator today raised the alarm over a looming crisis in the southern African country Malawi where some 4.2 million to 4.6 million people will be facing food insecurity by the end of the year.

“We are trying also now to bring out early warnings for Malawi…we already see that 45 percent of children under five are stunted due to malnutrition, diarrhea and other diseases. Twenty-two percent are clearly underweight,” Jan Egeland, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, told a news briefing today in UN headquarters in New York.

And even in Niger, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) expressed concerns today about signs of a slowdown in support as world attention waned.

Mr. Egeland said that the international donor community and the United Nation were now making significant progress with efforts to get assistance to the needy in drought-stricken Niger where food crisis has put nearly 3 million people are at risk.

He said the UN system has thus far received $40.4 million of a total donor appeal of $80.9 million and to date UN agencies have delivered some 6,000 tons of food to Niger, which has been racked by drought and, more recently, locust infestations which have led to an estimated third of its more than 11 million people suffering severe food shortages.

In addition, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is supporting 10 (non-governmental organizations) NGOs which are operating 156 nutritional centres, he said.

“We wish we’d had this programme before, but we see great strides ahead now and the Secretary-General’s visit has helped to focus international attention on the need for long-term assistance for full security in Niger,” Mr. Egeland said.

And in Niger, World Food Programme (WFP) Deputy Executive Director Jean-Jaques Graisse said that food distributions continued to move across the worst affected parts of the country. But he urged the international community not to turn its back on the continuing suffering even as financial support for its emergency operations showed worrying signs of trailing off.

Despite the surge of support following international television broadcasts chronicling the desperate plight of many young children in Niger, WFP has received only two donations in the past two weeks, and its emergency operations remain less than 50 percent funded, with $29.6 million still needed, Mr. Graisse told a press conference in the Nigerien capital Niamey.

“We need to keep Niger on the map,” Mr. Graisse said. He said WFP was working with NGOs and a coalition of donors to reach nearly 2.7 million people – many of them children – in urgent need of food aid as the annual “hunger season” peaks.

Lukewarm response to the country’s plight led Secretary-General Kofi Annan earlier this week to make a trip to the country where he met with its President, Mamadou Tandja, visited a hospital, a feeding centre and the UN country team.

Before departing, he issued a call to the international community to provide both immediate help and assistance in formulating a long-term strategy, taking into account neighbouring countries in the sub-Saharan Sahel region which are also suffering from the consequences of drought and the worst locust invasion in 15 years.

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