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Starving children need urgent help to prevent Niger disaster

Niger’s food crisis is on the brink of becoming a disaster, new government figures warn.  Prolonged drought and crop failure in the dry West African country means that nearly half the people in Niger do not have enough to eat and nearly 20 per cent of children under five are malnourished.  And the government’s latest estimates on just how much the  country is suffering are significantly higher than what was thought.

The United Nations warns that only urgent action will avoid widespread devastation and has asked the international community for 190m$ (£126m) to ease malnutrition, which is hitting children under three the hardest. Niger’s new annual government survey on child nutrition, found that the global acute malnutrition rate has reached 17 per cent for children under the age of five. This level is far above the UN’s 15 per cent warning threshold and the 12.3 per cent rate estimated in 2009, it noted, adding that in some regions, such as Diffa and Maradi, the rates have reached 22 per cent and 20 per cent, compared with 17 per cent and 13 per cent last year. "The emergency threshold has been largely exceeded, the children are going through an extremely difficult time and we are very concerned. We have to reinforce immediately our interventions to limit diseases and losses of human life," said Guido Cornale, from the UN’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF). "An acceleration of preventive and curative actions for malnourished children is ongoing. Donors' support is crucial at this stage," he added.

The government, UN backed report out on Thursday, found that nearly half a million children were malnourished, and 87,000 severely malnourished. The worst affected regions are Diffa, Maradi, Zinder and Tahoua. Across Niger, children under three are twice as affected by malnutrition than older children and more boys than girls are malnourished, it said.  Both UNICEF and the World Food Programme are running major preventive and treatment operations with the focus on protecting children and pregnant and breast feeding women. Aid groups have so far had 46 per cent of the $190m they asked for in April to equip them to respond to the crisis in Niger. UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes has said that, with enough money the UN was better prepared to respond to the crisis than they were in 2005 when the country endured another serious food crisis.

Hayley attribution