UN ups aid appeal for Niger as hunger grows


Humanitarian groups led by U.N. agency OCHA called for more aid for the West African state of Niger, citing a growing risk of disease and death after failed rains.

Niger and neighbouring Chad, already among the poorest nations in the world, are at the centre of a food crisis seen affecting 10 million people in the Sahel region over coming weeks. The move to increase the aid appeal for Niger to $253 million from $191 million was expected after new figures last month showed that over one in five children were already facing acute malnutrition in worst-hit regions, Reuters reports.
“Interventions need to be reinforced immediately to limit diseases and losses of human life. Donors’ support is crucial at this stage,” OCHA said in its mid-year review of humanitarian action around the world.

It added that donors had by June 25 provided 58 percent of the revised requirement, leaving a shortfall of $107 million.

Last year’s failed rains in the Sahel belt stretching across the south of the Sahara from Mauritania to Sudan mean the human cost this season could be as high as in 2005, when TV images of starving children shook the world out of inertia but too late.

While a final death toll was not established, U.N. agency UNICEF estimated at the height of the 2005 crisis that hunger and malnutrition were threatening the lives of 3.6 million people in Niger alone.

UNICEF already expects to treat 859,000 under-fives in the Sahel this season for severe malnutrition, the point at which a child faces an increased risk of disease or death.

Chad may ultimately prove more vulnerable than Niger, as it has fewer aid agencies on the ground and emergency food supplies can take up to five months to arrive via Libya and the Sahara or from Cameroon in the south.

Aid groups say the semi-arid Sahel region and its problems are often hard to explain to the world, with populations often made up of communities of cattle-rearers who shift from area to area according to the season.

There is also a perception that the donor response this time has suffered from coming months after the Haiti earthquake.

However OCHA said that as a whole, funding for humanitarian appeals around the world for the year so far was only slightly behind that of recent years, despite the Haiti effect and fears of the effects of the global recession on aid budgets.

It said that altogether, humanitarian appeals around the world were funded at 48 percent so far, leaving a $4.9 billion shortfall for planned action in the rest of 2010.