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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 July 2005, 16:52 GMT 17:52 UK
Niger children starving to death
By Hilary Andersson
BBC News, Maradi, southern Niger


Children are dying of starvation in feeding centres in Niger, where 3.6m people face severe food shortages, aid agencies have warned.

The crisis in the south of the country has been caused by a drought and a plague of locusts which destroyed much of last year's harvest.

Aid agency World Vision warns that 10% of the children in the worst affected areas could die.

They say the international community has reacted too late to the crisis.

Niger is a vast desert country and one of the poorest on earth. Millions of people, a third of the population, face food shortages.

We're completely overwhelmed... the response has been desperately slow
Milton Tetonidis
Medecins Sans Frontieres

Families are roaming the parched desert looking for help. One family we came across did not even know where they were going.

"I'm wandering like a madman," the father said. "I'm afraid we'll all starve."

They were hundreds of miles from the nearest food distribution point.

Aid agencies estimate that tens of thousands of children are in the advanced stages of starvation.

Children are dying daily in the few feeding centres there are, where their place in the queue could make the difference between life and death.

'Not equal'

Amina is so starved she cannot eat even if she wants to.

"She vomits as soon as I give her food or water," says her mother.

"As far as I'm concerned, God did not make us all equal - I mean, look at us all here. None of us has enough food."

A severe drought last year, combined with a plague of locusts, destroyed much of the crop that was needed to feed the people and the cattle they rely on.

Now, across the windswept plains of the Sahel, carcasses of cattle litter the landscape.

Rains have come - but so late they are now a curse, bringing malaria and other disease.

Little foreign aid has come into the country to deal with this crisis so far.

Aid agencies in the country predict the situation will get worse in the coming months and say the world has responded too late.

"There are children dying every day in our centres," says Milton Tetonidis of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders).

"We're completely overwhelmed, there'd better be other people coming quickly to help us out - I mean, the response has been desperately slow."

UN bodies and NGOs are appealing for donations through their websites.

The hunger in Niger was predicted months ago - but that did nothing to prevent the present disaster.

It did nothing to save Rabilou, a tiny child afflicted by starvation and infection, who died within a few hours of our arrival.

  • Britain has provided 2m ($3.5m) in aid to charities to help feed some 20,000 children and 250,000 adults in Niger, International Development Secretary Hilary Benn told the BBC.

Hilary Andersson's second report on Niger's food crisis is being broadcast on the BBC's Ten O'Clock News on Tuesday 19 July at 2100GMT.

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