DAKAR, July 21 (Reuters) - British aid agency Oxfam launched an appeal on Thursday for $1.75 million to help avert mass starvation in Niger, saying desperate mothers had resorted to feeding their children leaves to keep them alive.
The appeal follows months of increasingly urgent calls from U.N. agencies and other relief organisations for funds to help Niger, where failed rains and locust invasions last year left 3.6 million people facing severe food shortages.
"The situation is desperate. Even the limited food that is available has soared in price rendering it unaffordable for most families and there is no hope of any harvest for at least three months," said Natasha Kafoworola Quist, Oxfam Great Britain's regional director for West Africa, who is currently in Niger.
"Families are feeding their children grass and leaves from the trees to keep them alive," she said in a statement.
Aid workers in the vast West African country on the southern fringe of the Sahara say sluggish responses from donor countries to warnings first sounded at least nine months ago have needlessly endangered thousands of lives.
Rich nations have so far pledged about only a third of the money needed to fund U.N. appeals for food aid for Niger, where children bear the brunt of the suffering.
Almost a million children under the age of five have succumbed to malnutrition, of whom 150,000 are suffering from severe malnutrition that can lead rapidly to disease and death.
Rated as the world's second-poorest country after Sierra Leone according to U.N. data, Niger experiences food shortages even in good years, but last year's drought caused one of the worst crises in the arid, landlocked country in years.
Many people are for now beyond the reach of help offered by the government or the few aid agencies operating in Niger, where chronic poverty and poor weather have led to hunger, rather than the conflicts that have fuelled many African food crises.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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