Aid workers warn of famine disaster in Niger

08/14/2010 21:59

From MSNBC

DAKAR, Senegal — Niger is now facing the worst hunger crisis in its history, with almost half the country's population in desperate need of food and up to one in six children suffering from acute malnutrition, aid officials say.

Malek Triki, West Africa spokesman for the United Nations' World Food Programme, said villagers in Niger are describing the situation as worse than in 2005, when aid organizations treated tens of thousands of children for malnutrition, and worse even than 1973, when thousands died.

"What they are saying is that this is the worst crisis in living memory," Triki said.

National surveys conducted in May and June in the drought-stricken country on the southern fringe of the Sahara desert indicate that 16.7 percent of children under the age of 5 are acutely malnourished. That is well above the 15 percent threshold used by the U.N. to declare an emergency, according to the WFP.

The WFP estimates that 7.3 million people — almost half the country's population — are in desperate need of food. In rural areas like Diffa, Triki says he spoke to numerous people who eat at most once a day.

"A woman I spoke to basically said, 'We're in a constant state of fasting. If we eat lunch, we cannot eat dinner. If we eat dinner, we cannot eat lunch.'"

It's unclear if people have begun to die of starvation, he said, and mortality figures are not available from either Niger's government or the U.N.

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