UN Member States have treaty obligations to Niger as it faces famine, UN expert says

With 3.6 million people in Niger facing malnutrition and the international response being "totally insufficient," the United Nations expert on the right to food today said that under international human rights treaties States Parties were obliged to provide urgent assistance to any UN Member State threatened by famine.

Returning to Geneva from a fact-finding trip to drought-stricken, locust-devastated Niger, UN Special Rapporteur Jean Ziegler also called on the Government of Niger, the world's second poorest country, to distribute its reserve food stocks free to children, pregnant women and the elderly.

To ensure survival, the Government should give malnourished children free access to the health rehabilitation centres, he said.

Despite the critical situation, the international community has been slow to respond to aid agencies' appeals for assistance and their resources are dangerously limited, he said. Only $3.8 million had been received in response to an appeal for $16.2 million.

Niger's Government had divided the country into 106 surveillance zones and only in 19 of these zones was there a satisfactory nutritional status, he said. Meanwhile, the next harvest of millet, the country's basic foodstuff, was not due until October, he added.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said on Tuesday that it needed an extra $12 million to feed nearly 1.2 million of the most vulnerable in Niger, since it received most of an earlier $4.2 million appeal for 465,000 people only in the last six weeks.