Red Cross triples W Africa aid
Geneva - The international Red Cross said on Tuesday it was nearly tripling its aid effort in Niger and Mali, where several million people are suffering from serious food shortages triggered by drought.
The bolstered aid targets 100 000 people in hard hit areas of northern Mali and north-western Niger, where food shortages are aggravated by sporadic communal violence, International Committee of the Red Cross spokesperson Marcal Izard said.
The ICRC cited government estimates of more than a quarter of a million people suffering food shortages in northern Mali with about eight million people in Niger - half the population - hit by moderate to severe food insecurity.
"We can speak of a food crisis that is happening in Mali and parts of Niger that's affecting millions of people," Izard told journalists.
The UN's World Food Programme said last month that it was preparing to more than double food aid to Niger amid fears of a looming famine.
"Rainfall in 2009 was irregular and approximately 70% below the annual average," said Nicolai Panke, head of ICRC operations in Mali and Niger.
"Because of the weather conditions and the difficulty of moving about amid the violence, the harvest was poor and people have been running out of food while cattle don't have enough pasture," he added.
The ICRC's additional 23 million Swiss franc ($22m) programme nearly triples the Geneva-based agency's existing 13 million franc relief aid earmarked for the two poverty-stricken countries this year.
It will provide food and farming supplies, and also buy cattle at pre-crisis prices from 45 000 nomadic herders to cut down herds and distribute meat locally.
On Friday Niger's government said pupils were staying away from schools in the south because of the food shortages.