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Aid arrives for Niger families

Tens of thousands of families in southern Niger are finally starting to get the aid they need to survive.

For the past six months villagers have been forced to live on wild leaves and fruit after leafhoppers ate their grain crops last year, leaving them with nothing to eat.

The west African country’s new government has brought in a cash-for-work scheme to help the more than 200,000 people without enough to eat.

"The government is paying for the 325 villages out of its own pocket while the remaining 29 villages are being covered by partner aid agencies," said Modibo Traoré, from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Niger.

The body was one of many to highlight the worsening situation in Magaria before the yearly lean season which starts in May. But aid was stalled partly because of the country’s change in government last month from a military junta-backed government to an elected non-army one.

About 120,000 people from affected families have started to get about £1 a day for 60 days as payment for helping to restore hectares of farming land in the district. "It is hoped that by the end of the 60-day period they [the villagers] would have built up [enough] resilience to carry on with the planting season when the rains begin in June," Traoré, told the United Nations news service, IRIN.

Magaria is a tiny green district near Niger’s border with Nigeria, where small farmers grow the grains, millet and sorghum which are major food sources for the dry when rainfall is normal.

Next month, the United Nations World Food Programme will launch a country-wide feeding programme targeting all children under two. "That should cover any vulnerable children in Magaria District," added Traoré.

Because it lies on the edge of the Sahara desert, Niger is always vulnerable to drought and levels of malnutrition are often high.

The country on Friday also put out an appeal for global aid to help more than 93,000 of its people who have returned there since February after fleeing violence in Libya and Ivory Coast. "I appeal to all your countries and organisations to help us cope with this situation," Niger Foreign Minister Mohamed Bazoum said on state television.

He said that of the £1.4 million asked for, they had only been given about £400,000 and the whole country "may face a famine" if a remedy is not found.

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