UN food relief doubled for millions in drought-hit Niger

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The United Nations' food relief agency said Friday it would double the number of people receiving aid in drought-stricken Niger to 4.7 million after an "alarming" study showed widespread malnutrition.

The World Food Porgramme, which has already been providing food to some 2.3 million people in the Saharan state, decided to step up a gear after the "recent publication of an alarming study" by authorities there, WFP spokesoman Emilia Casella said.

The study released last month revealed that "about half of the country's inhabitants are suffering from food insecurity," she said.

The impoverished nation's population of about 15 million were already facing a food crisis before the latest report.

WFP had doubled its aid for Niger just two months ago to the current levels.

Casella said a drought in the Sahel region had amplified the food problems.

Acute maltnutrition for under five year olds had increased to 16.7 percent, compared with 12.3 percent a year earlier, according to WFP.

The World Health Organisation's emergency threshold is 15 percent.

In areas hit the hardest by the drought, such as Diffa, Maradi, Zinder and Tahoua, one in five infants are malnourished.

The WFP said it would need an additional 100 million dollars (81 million euros) to ramp up food deliveries and assistance, including special attention for under two year olds, whose growth could be irreversibly harmed by malnutrition.

© 2010 AFP

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