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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 September 2005, 10:37 GMT 11:37 UK
UN Niger aid plan 'risks lives'
Niger woman selling grain
Grain prices have rocketed during the food crisis
United Nations' plans to end general food aid distributions in Niger in a few weeks could be a disaster, warns aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres.

The UN's World Food Programme said that once the harvest begins next month, it will redirect food to concentrate on those most in need.

The UN argues this will allow high food prices, caused by shortages, to fall.

But MSF says with almost a million people not yet fed, next month is too soon to end wide-scale distributions.

It says that this could put many mothers and children in particular at risk.

"The targeted free food distribution has not yet reached the most vulnerable and the most remote areas," MSF's Christian Captier in Niger told the BBC.

"There is some logic in not disrupting the market, but not at the price of the many lives of children which are at risk there."

Phases

The WFP maintains that the step is necessary to allow food prices in Niger to normalise after escalating during months of severe shortages.

Sacks of food aid arrive in Maradi on 10 August

"We are constantly doing assessments, so when this year's harvests arrive in a month's time, we'll know exactly who is most vulnerable and most in need," WFP spokesman Greg Barrow told the BBC News website.

"The priority is always to feed the hungry, but the last thing you want to do is to destroy the livelihoods of farmers, by flooding the country with general free distributions of food aid when the harvests are coming in."

"There is no sense in which food aid will be cut off to the hungry," he says.

Challenge

The WFP faces huge logistical challenges moving food aid vast distances on poor roads.

But the BBC's Hilary Andersson in Niger says that almost a million people who need it have still received no food aid at all and it is now six weeks since the aid began flowing into Niger in large quantities.

She says that large numbers of young children are still dying in feeding centres. An assessment by MSF this week indicates that more than 40 people are dying a day in just one area that they surveyed.

With malaria and other diseases now prevalent in the feeding centres, due to the rains, doctors say many of the malnourished are in a worse condition than they were a month ago.

Niger is ranked the poorest country in the world and has suffered years of neglect by the outside world.


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See how aid agencies are dealing with the crisis in Niger



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