Niger ministers dip into own pockets for food aid

By Abdoulaye Massalatchi

NIAMEY, June 8 (Reuters) - Niger's government ministers have pledged to dip into their own pockets and give around two-thirds of a month's salary to help millions of people facing severe food shortages in the impoverished West African nation.

The 24 ministers each promised to give 500,000 CFA francs ($940) in aid, while Prime Minister Hama Amadou would donate one million CFA, according to a government statement issued on Wednesday.

Recurring drought and a locust infestation have left 3.6 million people in desperate need of aid in Niger, where many people outside the main cities live in mud-brick buildings on the edge of the Sahara desert.

The United Nations said last week not a single dollar had been pledged for Niger two weeks into an emergency appeal for $16.2 million. Among the needy are 800,000 children aged under 5, including 150,000 with severe malnutrition.

The food crisis comes as the leaders of the world's rich nations talk about doing more to help Africa ahead of a Group of Eight summit next month in Gleneagles, Scotland.

U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said they were close to a deal on Tuesday on a plan to cancel up to 100 percent of poor African countries' multilateral debt and that they hoped to put the plan before world leaders in Scotland.

Bush and Blair, however, failed to agree on the British prime minister's proposal to dramatically increase aid for Africa.

Landlocked and arid Niger, with a population of about 12 million and an average life expectancy of 46 years, is one of the world's poorest and least developed countries. One in four children dies before the age of five.

The government has struggled to get a grip on the ailing economy or come up with a coherent strategy to combat the food shortages since appealing to the international community in November to help save its people from food insecurity.

Four months later it slapped a 19 percent tax on staples such as flour and milk, saying it had been forced to do so by the demands of the International Monetary Fund. The move triggered unprecedented protests and was later reversed.

The government said on Monday it would launch food loans for more than 2 million subsistence farmers. Each household would receive a 100 kg bag of corn, millet or sorghum every month for three months and would then return the food at the end of the 2005/06 harvest.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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