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Last Updated: Monday, 3 April 2006, 16:21 GMT 17:21 UK
Niger halts BBC hunger coverage
By Orla Guerin
BBC Africa correspondent

A malnourished child in a makeshift hospital in Maradi, Niger
People in Maradi were hit by the humanitarian crisis of last year
Niger has withdrawn permission for a BBC team which found evidence of hunger in the country to continue to report on the humanitarian situation there.

Officials said international and local media would not be allowed to do stories about the food situation as they did not want that subject touched.

Hunger and malnutrition are recurrent problems in Niger, which is the poorest country in the world.

Last week the United Nations included Niger in a major fundraising appeal.

With the country facing the lean months before the harvest comes in, we travelled to the region of Maradi, which was badly affected in the humanitarian crisis of last year.

We found evidence that hunger is beginning to creep through the area. We met plenty of local people already facing food shortages, including one family where parents and children had not eaten for three days.

Aid workers say that in the course of a singe week recently, 1,000 children were admitted to a feeding programme for the malnourished.

Milton Tectonidis of the relief organisation Doctors Without Borders said that unless donors dig deep, many in Niger could face a desperate few months.

"They are fragile. Everybody knows that. A bad year weakens their resources for two or three years following," Dr Tectonidis said.

"So it's going to be bad if the financing doesn't come in. There's no doubt about it. We're going to be running around like crazy."

'Culture of denial'

After we broadcast our first story we were recalled to the capital, Niamey, and told our permission to report on the humanitarian situation had been withdrawn.

BBC correspondent Orla Guerin
Guerin and her crew have now returned to London

Officials said they had no problem with our story, but the government did not want foreign or local media to report about food supplies or malnutrition.

The officials also criticised aid agencies without naming names, claiming that some of the funds raised for Niger last year did not reach their destination.

Hunger has always been a politically sensitive issue in the country.

Aid workers say there is a culture of denial at the highest levels and they worry that donors may forget the suffering in Niger if the government stops them from seeing it.

See a BBC report from Niger where the media is banned



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