Malek Triki, West Africa spokesman for the United Nations' World Food Programme, said villagers in Niger are describing the situation as worse than in 2005, when aid organizations treated tens of thousands of children for malnutrition, and worse even than 1973, when thousands died.
The WFP estimates that 7.3 million people — almost half the country's population — are in desperate need of food. In rural areas like Diffa, Triki says he spoke to numerous people who eat at most once a day.
Niger's government, now being run by a military council after a February coup ousted President Mamadou Tandja, had said it would provide more than 21,000 tons of food. In 2005, Tandja played down the food crisis, dismissing it as "false propaganda" used by the U.N., aid agencies and opposition parties for political and economic gain.
Niger has historically been susceptible to famine because the country is mostly not irrigated. The success of its agriculture is heavily dependent on rain and when the rains fail, so do the country's crops."
updated 8/14/2010 1:06:28 PM ET