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EU Boosting Food Aid for Niger

The European Union is boosting food aid for Niger, where nearly 60 percent of the population is facing severe food shortages because of poor rains.

European Union Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristaline Georgieva visited Niger last week to evaluate a crisis where the U.N. World Food Program is targeting more than 1.5 million people for a general food distribution and as many as 500,000 children under the age of six for specialized therapeutic feeding.

In response, the European Union is donating an additional $28 million to help millions of vulnerable people in Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, and northern Nigeria.

EU humanitarian aid spokesman Fernand Traralas says the European Union has increased its aid to Sahelian countries every year since 2005, reaching this year's record of more than $64 million. Of the additional $28 million the EU has approved for this food crisis, he says Niger will receive nearly $18 million.

Traralas adds that the money will be used to help hospitals provide therapeutic treatment to malnourished children and to give those families most at risk coupons to buy their own food. He says the European Union understands the importance of cattle in Niger and is working on what can be done to help people whose livelihood depends on livestock.

Traralas notes that this is a problem that the people of Niger are not facing alone. He says the economic crisis that many members of the European Union are facing is not an excuse to forget those countries, including Niger, that are facing food shortages. Because the money provided by the European Union comes from European taxpayers, Traralas says Sahelian countries should ensure they use it in the best way.

In the short term, Traralas says people who need food should be fed, including vulnerable children and pregnant women. This can best be done by buying food from farmers in Niger because that is better than importing food from Europe. In the long term, he says donors should help develop Niger by strengthening education, health, and agriculture.

The U.N. says poor farmers and cattle herders in Niger, Chad, and northeastern Mali will likely need food assistance at least through the hoped-for early harvests in August.