May 25, 2010 / 5:05 PM / 10 years ago

Chad hunger overshadowed by Niger food crisis - UN

* Only $2 million raised for Chad so far

* Food shortages already prompting migrations

By Moumine Ngarmbassa

MAO, Chad, May 25 (Reuters) - Relief efforts for two million people facing food shortages in Chad are suffering because donors are concentrating aid on neighbouring Niger, a United Nations agency warned on Tuesday.

Niger is seen at the centre of a looming food crisis in the Sahel, the strip of land stretching across the south of the Sahara where some 10 million people are facing hunger in coming months because of poor rains last year.

But the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) sounded an alarm that Chad, which along with its neighbour is one of the world’s poorest nations, was being overlooked.

“Donors are afraid of a repetition of the 2005 food crisis in Niger, when many people starved to death,” Fatouma Seid, the FAO’s emergency operations expert, said in a statement.

“In comparison, there’s less awareness of what’s happening in Chad, although the situation there is just as critical.”

The FAO has only raised $2 million of the $11.8 million it requested last November for operations in Chad, Seid said. By contrast over $60 million of aid has been raised for Niger.

The Sahel repeatedly falls prey to food shortages and often full-blown famines. Poor rains and infestations last year have slashed food production and the amount of fodder available for animals.

U.N. aid chief John Holmes was in Chad on Tuesday and visited some of the areas hit hardest by the crisis. The visit follows a similar trip to Niger in April.

“What I can do is to talk to donors and ask them to increase their support for these operations because the situation in this region of the country is serious and could become worse if we don’t act on time,” Holmes said in the western town of Mao.

Many people in Chad have already used up their stores of grain, and men have been leaving northwestern regions to seek work elsewhere in the country to provide for their families.

UNICEF, the U.N.’s agency for children, has warned that over 100,000 children between six and 59 months old will need treatment for severe malnutrition.

“As always, children will be the first ones to suffer and, if nothing is done, they will be the first to die,” UNICEF said in a report on Chad released earlier this month.

Elsewhere shortages are prompting migrations, with hundreds of people from Niger having arrived in the northern Nigerian city of Katsina in recent days, many of them women surrounded with children who are begging in the streets for food. (Additional reporting by George Fominyen in Dakar and Sahabi Yahaya in Kaduna; writing by David Lewis; editing by Michael Taylor)

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