U.N. envoy demands action on Niger food crisis

GENEVA, July 13 (Reuters) - Niger's government must give out free food to stave off famine facing the desert country and the international response so far has been "totally insufficient", a United Nations' envoy said on Wednesday.

U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food Jean Ziegler, just back from a visit, said some 3.6 million people, 800,000 of them children, were facing severe malnutrition in the world's second poorest country.

Despite the critical situation, the international community has been slow to respond to aid agencies' calls for help, while the local government continued to resist demands it give free food to the most needy.

It prefers giving cereals in return for work on community projects because it says handouts only distort local food markets and encourage dependence.

"The rapporteur demands that the government immediately begin distributing food free to the most vulnerable groups," Ziegler said in a statement.

He also reminded members of the United Nations that under international human rights treaties they were obliged to come to the aid of those whose "right to food" was being denied.

"The response of the international community to the Niger tragedy has been shown to be totally insufficient," said Ziegler, a Swiss sociologist and former Socialist Party politician.

Niger warned last November that drought and a locust plague that swept across the region south of the Sahara had wiped out harvests and would hit the food supplies of more than 3 million people.

On Tuesday, the U.N. World Food Programme said it needed an extra $12 million to feed nearly 1.2 million of those most at risk. That was partly because it received the bulk of an earlier $4.2 million appeal for 465,000 people only in the last six weeks.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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