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WFP Renews Aid Appeal for Niger, Mali

The World Food Program is renewing an appeal for $14 million to feed about one million hungry, destitute people in Mali and Niger. The WFP says both countries are suffering severe food shortages because of a locust invasion and drought.

Both Niger and Mali are suffering the effects of the worst locust invasion to hit West Africa in 15 years. That, plus an ongoing drought has turned a food shortage into a crisis.

World Food Program Spokeswoman, Christiane Berthiaume, says unfortunately, the desperate needs of millions of people are being ignored by international donors. She says since the appeal was launched several months ago, Mali has received just over $800,000 and Niger has received nothing. She says the situation in these countries is so critical, WFP has had to dip into its emergency fund to urgently help the most vulnerable.

She says Mali and Niger are two of the poorest countries in the world. About 60 percent of their populations live on less than one dollar a day. Ms. Berthiaume says the people there support themselves through subsistence farming. "This invasion of locust has destroyed the crops. And, what we are seeing right now is that prices have gone up in those two countries. The prices of cereals has gone up, but the prices of meat have gone down," she explained. "The problem is the pastoralists, they can not move their animals anymore because there is no place where they can feed them. Because on top of the locust, there is also a drought in the region. So, they are killing their animals to get some money, but now there is too much meat."

In their desperation, Ms. Berthiaume says people are chopping down the trees and converting the timber into charcoal which they sell on the market. She says malnutrition, which in a normal year is high, is growing even higher. She says in Niger, 800,000 children under five now are going hungry. They include 150,000 children who are suffering from severe malnutrition.

"And, in Mali, the same thing. I mean the malnutrition rates among the nomads is fairly high," said Ms. Berthiaume. "Forty percent of the kids of less than five-years-old do suffer from malnutrition. And, you see more kids in Mali coming to therapeutic feeding centers. The figures have doubled compared to the same date last year."

Until donors send more money, Ms. Berthiaume says the WFP is only able to feed the most vulnerable people, including malnourished children, nursing mothers, the old and disabled.