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Last Updated: Saturday, 30 July 2005, 23:44 GMT 00:44 UK
Aid reaches Niger relief centres
French food aid is unloaded in Maradi, Niger, on 30 July
Actual distribution of the aid is not due to start until next week
Aid has begun reaching feeding centres for the 2.5m people estimated to be facing famine in Niger and distribution is due to begin in earnest next week.

Most supplies are being brought in overland but more than 40 metric tons of emergency UN food aid has arrived by air from Italy and more is due.

Crops in Niger were badly hit this year by drought and a plague of locusts.

France has urged other states to match its donation to a cause one French aid worker said the world was ignoring.

Look at these children the world doesn't give a damn about
Bernard Kouchner
French aid worker

Bernard Kouchner, a co-founder of MSF, was speaking on a visit to malnourished children and their mothers in Djantoudou, in the south of Niger.

"Look at these children the world doesn't give a damn about," he said, a day after landing on a French aid flight.

Disease fears

A cargo plane flying from Brindisi in southern Italy landed in the Niger capital, Niamey, on Friday, carrying 44 tons of high energy biscuits.

Malnourished boy in Maradi, Niger, on 30 July
Tens of thousands of children are living with hunger

Marta Laurienzo, a World Food Programme logistics officer, said the biscuits were used in emergency situations to replace proper meals.

They are due to be delivered by lorry from Niamey hundreds of kilometres to the hard-hit Tahoua and Maradi regions for distribution in local villages.

Doctors have warned that disease is now also a serious threat, particularly to undernourished children.

"These children are very, very vulnerable," Johanne Sekkenes, mission head for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Niger, told Reuters news agency.

"If they're already malnourished and they get malaria they need expert medical and nutritional help straight away."

'Aid delay'

France, the former colonial power, announced it was increasing its 2005 food aid to Niger to 4.6m euros ($5.6m).

Inspecting the aid effort on Saturday, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said:

"I'm happy to see that France is the biggest donor but other countries must do the same."

Speaking to Reuters news agency, he accused the international community of failing to react in time.

Eleven of the UK's leading charities have launched an appeal for Niger which they hope may raise around 10m ($17.6m).

Heavy downpours are threatening to spread disease

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