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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 August 2005, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK
Niger leader denies hunger claims
People collecting food aid
The WFP has begun large-scale food distribution
Niger President Mamadou Tandja has dismissed reports that his country is experiencing a famine.

"The people of Niger look well-fed, as you can see," he told the BBC.

He accepted there were food shortages in some areas after poor rains and locust invasions but said this was not unusual for his country.

Mr Tandja said the idea of a famine was being exploited for political and economic gain by opposition parties and United Nations aid agencies.

Young child suffering from severe malnutrition is treated at an MSF centre in Maradi

The World Food Programme denied that the scale of the problems had been exaggerated.

"We have not spoken about famine but about pockets of severe malnutrition," WFP spokesman Greg Barrow told the BBC.

On Monday, the WFP started the general distribution of food in parts of southern Niger. Until now, it has been giving out food in schools or food for work schemes.

Mr Tandja said if the problems were serious, shanty towns would form around the big towns, people would flee to neighbouring countries and street beggars would become more prevalent. Mr Tandja said this had not happened.


"We are experiencing like all the countries in the Sahel a food crisis due to the poor harvest and the locust attacks of 2004," Mr Tandja said.

But he said the reports of famine were "false propaganda" being circulated by opposition politicians and UN agencies for their own interests.

His own people are dying and he is denying the facts
Jean-René Grailhe, Bournemouth

"It is only by deception that such agencies receive funding," he said.

He questioned why of the $45m (£25m) promised to Niger to help it deal with the food crisis, only $2.5m had been received by his government.

Mr Barrow said that the WFP was accountable for all its funds to donor governments but pointed out that not all aid money is channelled through the governments of recipient countries.

He agreed that Niger often faced hunger but said last year's harvests were "particularly bad".

The UN estimates that up to three million of Niger's 12 million population are suffering food shortages.

It says 32,000 children with severe malnutrition could face death without the necessary food and medical treatment.

Aid agencies report that hunger is killing children every day.

Mr Tandja said his government had responded to the crisis by subsidising the price of food since last year.

Listen to Niger's president deny reports of famine

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