CBSN

Niger: Famine Warnings Unheeded

In the African nation of Niger, a humanitarian crisis continues, with millions of people starving and in danger of dying following one of the worst droughts in the nation's history, CBS News Correspondent Richard Roth for The Early Show

Niger's problem now, the experts say, is that many of the country's poor are remote, landlocked and little known, and desperately, desperately hungry.

"There are, I think, dozens of children dying every day under the age of five," says Jean Zeigler of the United Nations. "There are many, many hundreds of thousands of victims; nobody knows where they are dying, because it is so immense."

Officials estimate that there are some 800,000 children in Niger who need food urgently.

Every third infant there is underfed.

The crisis has come from drought and crop failure, and a call for help that went unheeded. Niger's government began sounding alarms last November. The World Food Program pleaded for donors. Now, officials say delay has cost lives, and pushed up the cost of saving more, because aid now must come by air.

"The real concern now is for children," says Marta Laurienzo of the World Food Program. "They cannot wait longer. They need our support, and they need it quickly."

With aid now flowing in, the United Nations is doubling the size of its feeding program.

But Niger, like its neighbors, faces a problem that's chronic: Food production can't keep up with a growing population, even when the harvest shows promise.

Experts say the crisis, in other words, was predictable.

Rock concerts are all very well, said a French aid worker, referring to Live 8 just last month. But, while the bands were playing, he said, people in Niger were dying. Not for lack of interest. But for lack of planning.