U.N. confident Niger aid appeal will be met

GENEVA, July 22 (Reuters) - The international community has raised some $25 million in donations and pledges for Niger's food crisis and the United Nations is confident its $30.7 million target will be met, a senior official said on Friday.

But U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland said the target would soon be increased, reflecting the devastation wrought in Niger by failed rains and a plague of locusts.

Some 3.6 million people, around 28 percent of the population in the world's second poorest country, are short of food, with tens of thousands of children at risk of starving to death.

"We have received more in the past 10 days than we had in the previous 10 months," Egeland told journalists.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said it was seeking 18 million Swiss francs ($14 million) to "avert widespread starvation" in Niger and three other drought-hit countries along the southern edge of the Sahara -- Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso.

The federation, the world's largest relief agency, said that surveys showed that up to 2.9 percent of Niger's children under five were suffering from acute malnutrition, with the rate rising to six percent in the worst affected areas.

But some 2.2 million people in Mali, 1.6 million in Burkina Faso and 750,000 in Mauritania were also under threat, it added.

"We have a window of opportunity to avert a major catastrophe," said Federation coordinator for the operation Langdon Greenhalgh.

Egeland said that the U.N. had issued its first warning about the looming humanitarian crisis last November and followed it up with further calls of alarm in February and March, "when the drought was killing what the locusts did not eat".

"Over the past few days the world has finally woken up, but it took the images of dying children to make the world wake up," Egeland added.

The official said the United Nations had received some $6.6 million, while another $7.6 million had gone to other humanitarian organisations and the Niger government. In addition, more than $10 million of assistance had been pledged.

"I am hopeful that we will get most of what we have appealed for," Egeland said.

He said the target would be increased, but did not give a new figure.

"This is not much money. This is about 20 minutes of world military spending and the world can afford it," Egeland said. (NIGER-UN-AID), reporting by Richard Waddington; editing by Fredrik Dahl;; Reuters Messaging:; Geneva Newsroom tel. 41-22-733 3831)


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