UN official says two more months required to measure success of Niger relief

With the intensification of international aid, it will take about two more months to know whether or not the hunger crisis has been reversed in Niger, the world's second-poorest country that has been plagued by drought and the worst invasion of locusts in 15 years, a top United Nations humanitarian official said today.

"Given the mobilization of efforts in the past few weeks, what has happened is that the decline has been arrested - you're getting food in, you're getting health services, you're getting attention," said Margareta Wahlström, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator as she clarified the increased United Nations Flash Appeal for Niger at a press conference.

"We will not immediately reverse the situation but it will probably take another two months before you can say it has been stopped, or reversed," she added.

Among the important factors to watch for, she said, were the upcoming rains, which were predicted to be adequate, as well as the situation of cattle, the population's main wealth. Many cattle were sick, did not have fodder and had been moved. Restocking cattle, feeding them and moving them back would take several months.

The Government of Niger was insistent on not recreating classical dependence and so they are continuing to monitor the situation to make sure that food assistance is not continued longer than needed, she said.

Saying that the crisis had worsened due to poor initial donor response, the United Nations yesterday raised the Flash Appeal to almost $81 million. The total is five times the original $16,191,000 sought little more than two months ago to address the then "looming food crisis" during the lean season from May to September.

Ms. Wahlström said the largest portion of the new appeal - some $59 million - was for the World Food Programme (WFP), with another $10 million for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). To ensure no further deterioration, some 2.5 million people would receive food from WFP and other agencies, in addition to what the Government was already providing from its almost depleted buffer stocks.

Among those most in need, 192,000 children - 32,000 severely malnourished and 160,000 moderately malnourished - would be supported, she said.

In addition, since children often died from poor access to health facilities, part of the response would be devoted to make health facilities available, in addition to increasing the supply of water.