The United Nations World Food Program says the first major airlift of emergency food aid for drought-stricken Niger is set to begin on Thursday.
The agency says an aircraft will take off from Brindisi in southern Italy Thursday morning, to deliver 44 metric tons of high-energy biscuits to Niger's capital, Niamey.
Country director Giancarlo Cirri says the food cannot arrive soon enough for the estimated 2.5 million people facing food shortages as a result of drought and locusts. He calls the situation some of the worst hunger he has ever witnessed.
Meanwhile, the British charity Oxfam is calling on the United Nations to create a $1 billion emergency relief fund to prevent future food crises.
Aid agencies began warning of severe food shortages in Niger last year - but donors failed to respond until television images of the hungry were broadcast.
Some information for this report provided by AP and AFP.