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Famine Hits Niger After Locusts and Drought Decimate Crops

The United Nations is appealing to international donors for aid to the second-poorest country in the world, Niger, which is located in West Africa.

Millions of people, including children, are suffering from malnourishment and are on the brink of death if Niger doesn't receive some help immediately.

Jan Egeland, the U.N. Humanitarian chief, says 2.5 million people in the West African nation of Niger are in desperate need of food, 800,000 of them children. The aid agency World Vision has estimated that some 10 percent of children there could die from malnourishment if help does not arrive quickly.

Doctor Isabelle Defourny, is with Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors without Borders. She assesses the situation as dire. "For the moment, our main concern is that we don't see how the situation could evolve positively if we don't get more dynamic help. The next harvests are scheduled for October, so until then there is an urgent need to distribute food to all those vulnerable families who can't afford to buy it."

Children who are fortunate enough to make it to a therapeutic nutrition center are overseen by physicians from Medecins Sans Frontieres.

Vanessa Remy-Piccolo says the children she sees are severely malnourished and underweight. "This child arrived here with a severe state of malnutrition that we describe as 'minus 4'. That means he is one-year-old and weights 3.6 kg, which is the weight of a child at birth."

Niger suffered a crop shortage last year due to an invasion of locusts that left fields barren. A drought quickly followed, causing animals to starve to death and crops to stop growing. Niger has not been able to recover from the two environmental disasters, which has led to the food crisis.

At the moment the United Nations is building up a relief operation that will help several hundred thousand people but it says more is needed if Niger is to come out of its crisis.