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    Aid Agencies Launch Hunger Appeal for Niger

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    Natasha Saini

    Niger is grappling with an acute food crisis and nearly a million children in the country are malnourished of which at least 200,000 are on the brink of starvation.

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    Aid agencies say Niger is facing a hunger and malnutrition crisis and UK-based groups such as Oxfam and Action Against Hunger are calling on the international community to step up efforts to raise the over $100 million in assistance funding needed by Niger.

    Etienne Du Vachat from Oxfam spoke to VOA from Niger; he says inadequate or delayed funding could have dire consequences.

    "The international donors, they should really commit and quickly disburse, this quick disbursement will be key in the capacity of the world humanitarian community to respond to the needs which are huge and our partners on the field are very very concerned," said Du Vachat.

    Vachat says aid groups in Niger have been issuing warnings for months.  

    Guido Borghese is an aid worker in Niger with the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF. He says the situation is particularly grave for the children.

    "From now to the end of 2010 at least 200,000 cases of acute severe children malnutrition," said Borghese. "It means that the children are sick because of lack of food or also because of other diseases. And these children need to be treated and if they are not treated correctly, then their life will be in danger."

    Africa's Sahel
    Africa's Sahel

    Niger is one of Africa's poorest nations, ranking at the bottom of the United Nation's Human Development Index. And situated in the Sahel region, Niger is constantly under threat from drought conditions.

    Borghese says severe drought conditions over the past years have only exacerbated the situation.

    "Droughts during the previous rainy season .. resulted in the problems in [not having sufficient] grass for animals," Borghese adds. "That is one of the main resources for the people in rural areas and for this reason people are suffering for lack of food. This is also linked to the poverty of the people in this area."

    Aid workers agree drought and poverty have proved a vicious circle.

    Etienne Du Vachat from Oxfam says that there is almost a two-thirds deficit in the amount of food needed for livestock. As a result, he says, many farmers are being forced to leave their homes and move to towns in search of work and money to survive.

    "In some villages, up to 30 percent of the population was forced to leave their villages, their home, not only men, but also the entire families, to go to either neighbor countries like Nigeria or the urban center in Niger to search for jobs, a daily work," Vachat said.

    The British government's aid and development agency, DFID, has earmarked almost $30 million to mitigate the hunger crisis in Niger and neighboring Chad. Aid groups have also launched emergency responses. They say they are advising farmers on how to cope with dwindling food for their livestock, running cash for work programs, helping build cereal banks and distributing seeds and food to the poorest.

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