ROME - In response to repeated appeals to the international community to help stave off the deepening hunger crisis in Niger, the United Nations World Food Programme announced today that a much-needed airlift of food commodities from Réunir, a French aid agency, arrived early today in Maradi, one of the hardest hit areas of the country.
An estimated 3.6 million people are highly vulnerable and 2.5 million are in need of food aid.
Today's airlift consisted of 16 tonnes of oil, sugar and Plumpy'nut (a highly nutritious paste for young children) sent aboard an Antonov 12 aircraft from Marseille, France. A further airlift on Transall aircraft will take place over the weekend, with 40 tons of millet and 28 tons of oil delivered from Ndjamena in neighbouring Chad, to Maradi, thanks to the help of the French government.
These food supplies will help to replenish dwindling food stocks in Niger, where WFP is providing emergency food aid to 1.2 million of the most needy people.
This month, WFP almost tripled the number of beneficiaries due to rising malnutrition rates, especially among children. The woes of the annual "hunger season" have increased exponentially due both to poor rains and the devastation to crops and grazing by the worst locust invasion in 15 years.
"People are truly desperate. We need to provide as much urgent nourishment as we can to stop the appalling scenes of children slowly dying before their parents' eyes," said Gian Carlo Cirri, WFP Niger Country Director.
"It is extremely important to act quickly in this kind of situation," said Bernard Kouchner, former French Minister for Humanitarian Affairs, who also founded and heads Réunir. The NGO gathered foodstuffs from French companies such as Carrefour, l'Oreal and Total and organised the airlifts to Niger.
Noting that until now, relatively few images depicting the horror of starvation in Niger have been shown, Kouchner said he hoped that the airlifts would save lives and that the efforts to rapidly mobilise airlifts would encourage similar humanitarian response from France and beyond.
Veolia, a world leader in environmental services, donated US$ 12,000 (Euros 10,000) to WFP for the hungry in Niger.
So far, WFP's appeal for US$ 16 million for its emergency operation in Niger has received just US$ 5.2 million dollars, representing a 68 percent shortfall. Besides multilateral donations amounting to US$1.8 million; donors include: Italy (US$1.2 million); UK (US$912,000); Germany (US$627,000); Luxembourg (US$323,000); Denmark (US$279,000); Private donor (Veolia) (US$12,000).
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