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I'm Barbara Klein with the VOA Special English Development Report.
Thousands of tons of emergency food aid is on its way to Niger. That country faces the greatest need in what the World Food Program calls a severe "hungry season" in West Africa. The crisis is the result of a combination of dry weather, civil conflict and the worst invasion of locusts in fifteen years.
The World Food Program says two and one-half million people in Niger need help. Last week, the United Nations agency announced flights out of Italy and Ivory Coast to bring tons of food to Niamey, the capital. Also, food is arriving by ship in ports in Togo, Ghana and Benin, and being sent to Niger by truck.
Niger is one of the world's poorest countries. About eighty percent of its people depend on farming and raising cattle. But only fifteen percent of the land is good for farming. Now the insect invasion has destroyed crops and cattle grasslands.
The World Food Program has expanded its feeding operation in Niger to more than one million people, three times the number as before. The agency says it warned as early as last November about the growing need for aid. But it says such warnings failed to bring an international reaction until recently.
Recent findings show that about three percent of children under age five in Niger and Mali suffer from severe malnutrition. In some areas the rate is six percent.
The World Food Program says it urgently needs millions of dollars to prevent starvation in West Africa. The agency has appealed for sixteen million dollars in aid for Niger.
On July twenty-sixth the United States announced almost seven million dollars in additional emergency food aid for Niger. The Agency for International Development says about one million of it will go to feed mothers and children in the worst affected areas.
Locusts and a lack of rain have also ruined crops in Mali and Mauritania. The World Food Program says locusts invaded all of Mauritania's agricultural lands.
In Chad, the agency is feeding almost two hundred thousand refugees from the violence in Darfur, in western Sudan. Civil war in Ivory Coast and a political crisis in Togo have also created hungry refugees. And people are struggling to overcome the effects of conflict in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Guinea Bissau.
This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss. Our reports are on the Web at www.specialenglish.com. I'm Barbara Klein.
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