ROME - As the international humanitarian response to Niger's severe hunger crisis gathers pace, the United Nations World Food Programme announced today that a series of airlifts will deliver life-saving emergency rations to feed 80,000 victims of the country's intensifying emergency.
An Ilyushin 76 aircraft will take off from WFP's humanitarian response depot in Brindisi, southern Italy, on Thursday morning, delivering 44 metric tons of high-energy biscuits to Niger's capital Niamey. The airlift will be the first of three that WFP is sending to Niamey over the coming days.
In addition to the biscuits, the planes' cargo will also include mobile warehouses, generators and 4x4 vehicles.
With 1.2 million people at risk of starvation and food stocks dwindling, WFP's logistics operation has five weeks to deliver 23,000 tonnes of food to 19 districts on the frontline of the country's second-worst hunger crisis in history. As Niger's food shortages stretch traditional coping mechanisms to their limit, these numbers could grown even bigger.
"Whether it's by air, land or sea, the food cannot arrive a moment too soon. We are working flat out to deliver rations and help provide relief for some of the worst hunger I have ever witnessed," said Giancarlo Cirri, WFP Niger Country Director.
WFP alerted donors to the growing need for emergency aid as far back as November 2004. However, until recently, the international community had failed to heed warnings from humanitarian organisations that prolonged drought and locust infestation had destroyed crops and livestock across Niger, leaving some 2.5 million people on the brink of starvation.
In the past week, media images of the devastating human consequences of Niger's earlier-called "Silent Emergency" have finally galvanised the donor community. WFP's logistics operation is intensifying efforts to deliver the growing influx of emergency food aid to a landlocked country.
The first Brindisi flight will reach Niamey on Thursday afternoon, from where a convoy of trucks will carry the biscuits along the 660-kilometre desert road to Maradi in the south, one of the hardest hit areas of the country.
Starting August 1, the Agency is also planning a series of airlifts to shift 200 tonnes of Corn Soya Blend, used in supplementary feeding, direct from Abidjan in Cote d'Ivoire to Niamey.
Earlier this week, a 25-strong convoy of lorries loaded with 996 tonnes of rice and 550 tonnes of pulses - vital components in WFP's food rations for Niger - set-off along the 800-kilometre road from the port of Lome in Togo destined for Niamey - a five-day journey.
In total, over 2,000 tonnes of food aid is currently on the road to WFP's non-governmental organisation partners (NGOs) who are distributing the food to the worst-affected areas through nutritional feeding centres and free food distributions. WFP aims to deliver 4,220 tonnes to its NGO partners by the end of the week.
To help boost its dwindling stocks in Niger, WFP has established a number of humanitarian routes into the country, with most of the aid reaching Niamey via three ports in neighbouring countries: Lome, Accra in Ghana and Cotonou in Benin.
"We're talking about huge distances but the transport network is relatively good. The real problem has not been getting the food to the hungry but getting the donations to pay for the food," said Pierre Carrasse, WFP's chief logistics officer.
Despite the increase in the number of donations, WFP's US$16 million relief operation for Niger has confirmed donations of only US$9 million - a 43.3 percent shortfall.
In addition to multilateral donations amounting to US$1.8 million, donors include: Germany (US$1.5 million); United States (US$1.5 million); Italy (US$1.2 million); Europaid (US$1.2 million); UK (US$912,000); New Zealand (US$349,650; Luxembourg (US$323,000); Denmark (US$279,000); Switzerland (US$39,062); private donors (Veolia, US$12,000; Petronas US$20,000).
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: each year, we give food to an average of 90 million poor people to meet their nutritional needs, including 56 million hungry children, in at least 80 of the world's poorest countries. WFP -- We Feed People.
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