The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has begun a major round of feeding for 670,000 children under the age of two and their families in drought-stricken Niger, where as many as eight million people need assistance.
People in the West African nation are experiencing severe food shortages as a result of a prolonged drought that has caused crop failure and livestock deaths.
"People in Niger have suffered intensely from this protracted drought. It is critical to provide for the needs of these malnourished children," said WFP Regional Director Thomas Yanga.
The children will receive a monthly ration of a nutritious blend of corn and soya to combat malnutrition, according to a news release issued by the Rome-based agency. Some 4 million family members will receive 50 kilograms of cereals, 5 kilograms of pulses and a ration of oil.
The distributions come at the peak of the critical "lean season" period, when family food stocks are exhausted ahead of the October harvest.
The food and nutritional crisis in Niger has worsened since the last harvest in September 2009. According to national surveys conducted in May and June, acute malnutrition rates among children under the age of five stands at 16.7 per cent " above the 15 per cent emergency threshold.
Mr. Yanga emphasized the need for more contributions to sustain the agency"s $213 million feeding programme, which is only about 60 per cent funded.
"It is crucial that donors continue to come forward as soon as possible if we are to prevent the loss of a whole generation of children to malnutrition and food insecurity," he stated.
WFP is also implementing an emergency operation for 737,000 people, including acutely malnourished children, in parts of Chad, which has also been affected by the drought afflicting the eastern Sahel region.