A cargo plane carrying more than 44 tons of U.N. food and equipment has arrived in Niger to help those suffering from famine in the drought-stricken country.

The plane, which left Italy on Friday, landed in Niamey. The supplies are being trucked to areas hardest hit by famine - Maradi, Tahoua and Tillaber.

The plane, chartered by the United Nations World Food Program, was loaded with special vitamin-rich high-energy biscuits which will sustain the hungry while they wait for full rations to arrive.

Distribution to to more than 60,000 people is expected to begin early next week.

Aid agencies say about a third of Niger's 12 million people could suffer from food shortages. Hundreds of thousands of children are already in distress. Many face life-threatening malnutrition.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and Reuters.