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Famine Worsens in East of Niger


A medical aid organization is sounding an alarm about the situation in an eastern region of famine-ravaged Niger. Despite a massive aid intervention by the international community, the group says dozens of children are dying in remote areas each day.

Medical relief group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) says food shortages have become critical in Niger's Zinder province, where most people have yet to receive any aid at all. It's also an area where new harvests will not reach the neediest.

MSF's Dr. Abiy Tamrat says the group only recently fully realized the scale of the crisis there.

"We just completed a survey in the areas [where] we are working,” said Dr. Tamrat. “More than 90 percent of people have not really received any kind of food aid. And they have barely enough to eat for the coming weeks."

The United Nations' World Food Program (WFP) says around 2.5 million people are currently at risk of starvation. A drought and attacks by locusts devastated last year's grain harvest.

Though the food crisis was predicted almost a year ago, the international community was slow to react. In the last month and a half, emergency food has flooded into Niger. But UN officials, blaming logistical problems, say that aid has yet to be distributed to at least one million starving people.

Dr. Tamrat says Niger's early warning system failed to take into account social and economic factors that have created famine in the east. And, while other, less affected, areas have already been targeted for food distribution, he says, the situation is getting worse in Zinder.

"We are seeing a high death rate, way above the threshold for a crisis situation. And there is an increase in this mortality rate. We [haven't] seen yet any improvement in the situation," added Dr. Tamrat.

The onset of Niger's rainy season has complicated medical relief, with cases of malaria and respiratory infections rising. MSF estimates more than 40 children die every day in just one area surveyed in the east of the country.

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