In the bitter deserts of northern Niger, the people gather each day for the airlifts which are keeping them alive.
In the bitter deserts of northern Niger, the people gather each day for the airlifts which are keeping them alive. The flights which bring the vital supplies of foodstuffs from Laggs in Nigeria to the drought stricken north are organised by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation. (FAO).
Niger is one of the worst affected of the six West African countries south of the Sahara. The drought is the worst this century. But officials now say that provided the airlifts can be kept up, the peak of the crisis is probably over. The planes land on the dirt airstrip at ???gadez, the northern desert town swollen by thousands of refugees. Many are nomads who traditionally eke to a meagre survival from their herds. but they have been forced to flee to the town as the Sahara crept upon their sparse grazing lends. Their herds have been decimated and carcasses litter the barren wastes where waterholes could once be found. FAO officials believe that many of the nomads must have died during their flight but no one knows how heavy the toll of human life has been.
The United States is the greatest supplier of aid to Niger, but military aircraft from many countries are supporting the relief programmes, including 6 West German aircraft. FAO began its relief flights to Niger in June, financed by a special found for the drought area, but the contributions have so far fallen well short of the FAO target of GBP 6 million ($15 million).
Nearly half of the estimated 55 million cattle and livestock in the drought area are believed to have perished before the international aid programmes could take effect and FAO officials estimate that at least 13 of the 28 million people in the area still face the threat of famine.
Officials in Niamey, Niger's capital, stress that the aid operation will have to continue well beyond the envisaged cut-off date at the end of September. This year's crops will be harvested then but the country cannot rely on its own resources immediately.
SYNOPSIS: In Niger the West African drought has brought the desert sands of the Sahara further south than ever before. And the town of Agadez in the north has become one of the few places where food can be found.
Where there was once sparse grazing and waterholes for the nomad's herds, now there is only sand.
The herds have been decimated and many of the nomads themselves are believed to have died in their flight south from the ruthless encroachment of the desert.
The hopes of survival of these people are now dependent on the relief supplies that are being flown in form neighbouring Nigeria each day, organised by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation.
Six West German planes are among those which have been supplied for the airlift of the precious grain.
FAO began the flights to Agadez in June using special relief funds, but contributions have fallen well short of the GBP 6 million they hoped for.