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UN food agency steps up response amid growing food crisis in Niger

26 April 2010 – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said today it will more than double the number of hungry people it feeds in Niger, despite its own funding gap, as the food crisis in the African country worsens.

“Niger has been hit extremely hard by the drought and the world has to act to prevent massive human suffering and the loss of a generation,” said Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of WFP, noting that the agency will reach 2.3 million people in the arid eastern Sahel region.

General food distributions, particularly to pregnant women and nursing mothers, as well as blanket feeding for children under two years of age and supplementary feeding for children under five in the worst-affected areas, are the main priorities.

WFP is also supporting so-called cereal banks, community cereal stores where women buy grain at subsidized prices at the height of the “lean season” when the previous harvest has run out. Communities re-stock the banks during the next harvest when prices are lowest.

The stepped-up response comes as WFP is facing a $133 million shortfall in its funding for Niger.

It appealed for $190 million to scale up its operations in the West African country, where weak and erratic rainfall destroyed harvests last year and parched land normally used for grazing.

In January, results of a national survey found that more than half Niger’s population of 13.5 million is food insecure.

Acute malnutrition is on the rise and more than 1.5 million children risk becoming malnourished in the next 12 months unless urgent action is taken.

“We need to move quickly to provide a buffer for the people and Government of Niger against the shock of a serious food crisis,” said Thomas Yanga, WFP Regional Director for West Africa.

In addition to health consequences, the spike in grain prices and downturn in livestock prices has contributed to mass migration from rural to urban areas, as well as to neighbouring countries.

In a related development, John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, arrived in Niger today as part of an official visit to West Africa to assess the human impact of the food crisis.

Visiting the drought-hit Sahel region yesterday in Senegal, he called the mounting food crisis “very worrying.”

Today, Mr. Holmes met with Government officials in Niamey and welcomed the new Government’s commitment to addressing the food crisis with support from the humanitarian community.

Mr. Holmes is also meeting with UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), as well as donor and Member States.

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