Drought and locust plague leave Niger on the brink of famine

Aid agencies have warned that one in 10 children in the worst affected areas will die as a result of the official reluctance to act sooner to prevent famine. The government of Niger, the second poorest country in the world, warned last November that it would need help feeding 3.6 million people, including 800,000 children under five.

But while aid flooded into high-profile conflict areas such as Darfur in Sudan, Niger's pleas for help for a quarter of its population went unheard.

Jan Egeland, the outspoken UN under-secretary general, said last month that Niger was "the number one forgotten and neglected emergency in the world" and criticised international donor countries for ignoring his appeal for $16.2m (£9.3m) in emergency food assistance. By mid-July, the UN had received only $3.8m, even though more than 150,000 children are said to be severely malnourished. Most of these will now die before they can be fed.

After a five-day visit to the region, Jean Ziegler, a UN representative, said last week: "The vulnerable groups are on the brink of being wiped out, the children, the sick, the elderly."

Last month, 2,000 protesters marched into the capital Niamey to demand that the state distribute food to the starving, but government officials said at the time that it would be "foolish" to deplete its emergency stocks. Instead, the government offered to lend the poorest families cereal stocks to be repaid at the next harvest.

The UN's World Food Programme said it has finally managed to secure some emergency food aid, but the rations may take several weeks to reach those most desperately in need. It is estimated that the country needs more than 200,000 tons of food to make up for its shortfall.

Niger suffers a "hungry season" every year, as there is little irrigation for the 80 per cent of the population that depend on subsistence farming. But last year, drought and locusts destroyed most of the harvest and almost 40 per cent of livestock fodder. Farmers have had to either watch their cattle starve to death or sell them for a tenth of their normal value. As the prices of staples such as millet and sorghum soar, the money they receive for their livestock is not enough to buy food for their families.

Aissa Maman, a farmer, told Oxfam: "Prices have multiplied too many times. While I used to be able to buy one bag of 100kg millet after selling one or two healthy goats I would now need to sell three to five goats for the same amount."

By November last year, thousands of families had left rural villages and headed for Niamey and neighbouring countries such as Nigeria, Benin and Togo to look for food and work. Aid workers tell of how hundreds of people are walking through a desert littered with cattle carcasses looking for feeding centres and Nigerian immigration officials say thousands of people are trying to cross the border each day.

Milron Tetonidis of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) told reporters: "There are children dying every day in our centres. We're completely overwhelmed, there'd better be other people coming quickly to help us out - I mean, the response has been desperately slow." MSF has also warned that the rains, which have finally arrived, are now making conditions worse by spreading malaria and diarrhoea in the camps.

Niger's neighbours, Mali and Mauritania, were also hit by the plague of locusts that swept through the southern Sahel last year and are also suffering from similar food shortages. Nigeria, which is the richest country in the area, has provided some food to its neighbours but has echoed the aid agencies' pleas for extra help to be provided.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Women protest at the rape and murder of Jyoti Singh
tvReview: It's a tough watch, but the details of the brutal gang rape and murder of medical student need to be shared if we want to strive for global gender equality
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
health
News
people
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jeffrey Archer holds up a copy of 'Kane and Abel', a book he says was ripped-off by Bollywood
books
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot