With funding finally coming in for Niger’s hungry millions after initial appeals fell on deaf ears, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today reported the start of large-scale distribution that will feed 2.5 million people in the next two months. Yesterday the first free food distribution at village level took place in the small village of Tolkobey, 90 kilometres from Niamey, the capital, and WFP is finalizing field level agreements with non-governmental organization (NGO) partners. The agency last week tripled the funds it had requested to deal with crisis arising from drought and the worst invasion of crop-devouring locusts in 15 years in the world’s second poorest country. So far it has received 40 per cent of the new total of $57.6 million, leaving the current shortfall at $34.4 million. WFP aims to get food assistance to all critical and at-risk areas to avoid an increase in hunger among the 2.5 million people most at risk. More than 1 million more have been affected by the crisis, UN agencies say. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that, more than a week after pictures of starving children shocked the world into action, relief supplies are reaching their destination but more needs to be done to get children out of danger. “While its initial appeals for money to avert the disaster fell on deaf ears, UNICEF programmes in Niger are now almost fully funded,” the agency said, noting that it had received nearly $15 million to help care for nearly 200,000 children, 32,000 of them severely undernourished, and some 160,000 are moderately undernourished. UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah recently toured emergency feeding centres in Maradi, epicentre of the crisis, to see the suffering first-hand. “We were at the hospital of (NGO) Médecins Sans Frontières where they receive the severely malnourished children and we saw a child die in front of us…I think we should all feel guilty because children cannot die now at this time and age when we have technology and resources,” a shocked Ms. Salah told reporters before leaving Niger at the weekend. Working closely with its partners on the ground, UNICEF Niger has provided 41 tons of therapeutic milk, 6.7 tons of food and 190 tons of UNIMIX – a life-saving porridge easy for undernourished children to digest. In collaboration with WFP, 187 tons of corn-soy blend and 614 tons of cereals have been delivered to 62 affected villages, benefiting an estimated 200,000 people, including 40,000 children under five. In addition, about 900 tons of cereals are being delivered to another 90 villages, and approximately six tons of seed (corn, wheat, potato) have also been provided. As famine threatens to spread through the region, neighbouring countries including Nigeria, Mali, and Burkina Faso are also at risk of serious food shortages. “We need to fight poverty, we need to build an early warning system, and we need to empower the government and the local communities, so that we can prevent this from happening next year,” Ms. Salah said.