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Oxfam Warns International Community of 'Double Disaster' in Niger

A picture released by Oxfam and taken on17 Aug 2010 shows people standing near homes destroyed by flooding near Zinder
A picture released by Oxfam and taken on17 Aug 2010 shows people standing near homes destroyed by flooding near Zinder

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Britain-based charity Oxfam says Niger faces a "double disaster" as heavy rains hit the country.  The group said drought had ruined crops in the West African country and what food had grown is now being washed away by floods.

Oxfam says Niger is at the height of a months-long food crisis. An earlier severe drought destroyed crops, and now heavy rains are ruining what little was left.

"It is wiped out many crops and vegetable gardens so it has actually destroyed their one hope, which is having some food that they could sell now on the market or having crops that they could harvest at the end of September, October, so people are extremely desperate," said Oxfam's Caroline Gluck in Niger.  

The United Nations says more than half the country is facing starvation because of the food crisis.  Gluck says more than 150,000 children under five have been treated for malnutrition.

She says heavy rains are wiping out homes, roads, and bridges across the country and submerging crops in water.  The Niger River, which cuts through much of West Africa, is at its highest level for more than 80 years.  

Gluck says Niger is not set up to cope with erratic weather conditions.  Many people, she says, live in adobe-style mud or bamboo huts that do not withstand the rain.

"It is very easy for them to be displaced," noted Gluck.  "They have very little to protect themselves and very little warning that major flooding is about to happen."

Gluck says food, clean water, and medical care are badly needed.  But, she says the Haiti earthquake and Pakistan floods are drawing the world's attention from West Africa.

"Here in Niger it is a different kind of disaster," she added.  "It is a slow-burn disaster, the impact is more gradual, it is not as dramatic.  So you will not see these very intense, dramatic pictures on the television, but it does not mean that the people are suffering any less."

Earlier this month, the United Nations allocated an additional $15 million to deal with the food crisis, bringing total U.N. aid to Niger to $35 million this year.

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