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UN humanitarian chief sees deprivation among Niger's hungry

27 April 2010 – The top United Nations humanitarian official today traveled to south-eastern Niger to assess the human impact of a grave food crisis that has affected more than half of the West African country’s 14 million people.

John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, went to the department of Tanout in the region of Zinder, where living conditions are characterized by extreme poverty in a fragile economy dependent mainly on agriculture and pastoral activities, which have been greatly affected by a prolonged drought.

Access to food, water, education, health and all other social services remains poor. An annual population growth rate estimated at 4.4 per cent has exacerbated chronic vulnerability.

In a visit to the supplementary feeding centre in Tanout’s main hospital, where children under the age of five suffering from malnutrition receive intensive therapeutic care, Mr. Holmes talked to medical staff about the children’s nutritional status. He was told that acute malnutrition is on the rise, and admissions to the hospital are expected to peak in May-June.

Earlier, Mr. Holmes visited the village of Dalli, which has been classified among the region’s most vulnerable with nearly total shortages of grain. He met with the residents who told him that their survival strategies included reducing the frequency and quality of their meals, consuming wild foods, and picking hay and wood for sale in local markets. Food shortages have also caused a massive population movement from rural to urban areas and into neighbouring countries, notably Nigeria and Libya.

He also visited the village of Danganari, where the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has launched its animal feed assistance programme to help local herders.

In three months, more than 700 tons of animal feed will be sold at reduced rates by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), breeders’ associations and Government services in Tanout. The programme aims to reduce livestock deaths from starvation, lack of water and diseases. More than eight percent of the country’s livestock, or one million head of cattle, are at risk of dying this year.

Mr. Holmes will tomorrow visit the department of Mirriah to participate in the launch of a blanket feeding operation to prevent malnutrition among all children aged six to 23 months – a joint effort of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

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