Niger struggles with worsening food situation

Malnutrition among children on the rise - emergency assistance needed
Rome, 18 July 2005 - Niger is facing a worsening food crisis due to limited food supply and increasingly high prices for local food staples, such as millet, FAO warned today.

Some 2.5 million people in around 3 000 villages are at risk of food shortage, including about 800 000 children. Severe child malnutrition is increasing rapidly; the number of children supported by feeding centres is rising.

Targeted food supply and the delivery of agricultural inputs such as seeds and fodder are urgently required to enable affected vulnerable households to cope with the crisis until harvesting starts in October, FAO said.

"In late 2004, a combination of drought and desert locusts struck the northern parts of the Saheland the impact on many communities in these marginal areas has been very severe," said Henri Josserand, Chief of FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System.

"In Niger, several years of economic hardship or decline have also lowered people's capacity to deal with such shocks. This is why the crisis is now more acute in Nigerthan in other parts of the Sahel. People in affected areas are in critical need of seeds and enough food to carry them through until late October," Josserand added.

Out of 63 districts surveyed in the country, 11 have some populations in 'extremely critical' situation, and in 16 districts the situation is considered as 'critical', according to national estimates. Pastoralists, in particular, have difficulty accessing main food staples.

While there has been adequate rainfall in recent weeks and land preparation and planting is underway, availability of seeds in regions hard hit by drought and locusts remains limited. Desert locusts remain a serious threat, although FAO is not expecting a large-scale invasion this year.

FAO has launched an appeal for Nigerin May 2005 asking for around $4 million for emergency agricultural interventions.

As of today, the UN agency has only received a contribution from Swedenof $650 000 to provide cereal and pulse seeds for the rainy season, and animal fodder and vegetable seeds for the dry season starting in October. Seed distributions from this initial donation are currently ongoing.

The immediate delivery of additional seeds in affected areas is essential to ensure sufficient harvesting in October, FAO said.

Radio:Liliane Kambirigi, Radio Information Officer, (+39) 06 570 53223

Television: Bou Downes, TV Information Officer, (+39) 06 570 55980/ 53963

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