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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 August 2005, 14:00 GMT 15:00 UK
High food prices 'caused Niger hunger'
The BBC's David Loyn
By David Loyn
BBC Developing world correspondent

The United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan is in Niger in an effort to focus attention on the continuing food crisis in the West African region.

People queue for aid in Niger
The food crisis continues even though aid is arriving

Before going to the capital Niamey, he is visiting Zinder, the country's second-largest city, which is in the south-east, the region worst affected by the crisis.

In Zinder, the medical agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) reported on an increasing number of severely malnourished children.

This was almost most two months after the world's attention was first drawn to the problems facing Niger.

In the last month, more than 1,500 children have been admitted to their therapeutic feeding programme after first being screened.

Two or three die every day in their intensive care clinic, despite the best of attention, and MSF say they cannot keep pace with the increasing demand on their services.

But there is a debate in the aid community about whether this is an emergency caused by drought and locust-damage as was at first thought.

High food prices

New analysis of crop yields suggests that harvests were not severely affected, except in some localised areas.

The problem is the high price of food, which has tripled in rural areas, and doubled in cities, because of a big demand in neighbouring countries, particularly Nigeria.

Although child malnutrition is worse this year, it is endemic in Niger which is one of the poorest countries in the world.

One in four babies born does not live to see a fifth birthday.

Things could change once the present emergency is dealt with.

Intense media scrutiny on Niger and the funding which has followed it means that organisations which were not operating there before, will remain now.

Public generosity

Niger will need sustained support to recover.

The communities which have been hardest hit are nomadic groups who live on the edge of the Sahara desert.

Here the drought did have a bad effect, and many nomads have lost all of their animals and have nothing to fall back on.

Despite public generosity, which has meant that the UK's Disasters Emergency Committee appeal has just topped 20m ($36m), a UN World Food Programme appeal has received less than half of the amount required from governments and other big donors.

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