United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned on a visit to Niger that if food aid did not increase rapidly in the next few weeks, the country will be hit by another food crisis.
Speaking at the end of a two-day visit aimed at showing solidarity with the people of Niger, Secretary-General Annan said that a food shortage of the kind that has hit Niger is unacceptable in the 21st century.
Mr. Annan was speaking one day after the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres) accused the United Nations of acting too slowly to stem the desperate need for food in Niger. Mr. Annan called the criticism unfortunate.
"What is important is that all of us should focus on providing emergency aid to those in need," he said. "For those who are hungry and need food this debate we are having is totally irrelevant."
Mr. Annan admitted that the response of aid agencies had been slow, but he urged humanitarian organizations to get together to help the people of Niger. He also asked the international community to donate more aid to the drought-stricken country, saying that the U.N. had only received half of what it had asked for.
"The debate and the discussion [about] who did what, whether it was on time," added Mr. Annan. "We have lots of time once we've saved the people to discuss it."
The secretary-general also reiterated a call to establish a special fund to allow U.N. agencies to respond more quickly to emergencies.
Children under five and the elderly were most affected by the severe lack of food. During his visit, Mr. Annan visited a hospital in the town of Zinder, where severely malnourished children were receiving treatment. Niger's food crisis began last year, when its crops were devastated by drought and plagues of locusts. The next harvest will come at the end of September, and until then over two million people will need to rely on food aid.