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Niger's Most Vulnerable Famine Victims 
'On the Brink': UN

United Nations Report

July 13, 2005

The most vulnerable victims of Niger's famine -- children, the sick and the elderly -- are "on the brink of being wiped out" from the food crisis caused mainly by years of drought, a United Nations food representative warned.

Malnutrition has hit 3.6 million people over the past year, a third of Niger's 11.5 million population.

"The vulnerable groups are on the brink of being wiped out, the children, the sick, the elderly," said Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, after a five-day mission to Niger.

No statistics on the number of deaths are available, but Ziegler described as an example of the crisis the arrival at a dispensary last week of 61 severely malnourished children, 14 of whom were dead.

Babies who should have weighed 7 kilos (15 pounds) instead weighed three kilos, Ziegler said.

"Most of their brain cells will not recover," he added.

The latest crisis in Niger, one of the world's poorest countries and already no stranger to malnutrition, was sparked by the drought accompanied by last year's invasion of desert locusts which shrunk cereal production by more than 200,000 tons.

Ziegler called on donor countries to come to Niger's rescue without fears their contributions would fall into corrupt hands.

Niger's government directs the shipment of each sack of food to the people who need it, Ziegler said.

"There is no hijacking (the goods), no corruption, no breach of trust," he said.

The Swiss sociologist also called on Niamey to proceed with free emergency food rations to complement those being given out by humanitarian organizations.

The different UN agencies in May asked for 16.2 million dollars (13.4 million euros) to cover aid for Niger through the end of September. To date only 3.8 million dollars have been received.

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