In an Aug. 17 news story, Craig Timberg wrote about an international aid system that has failed Niger, but he got some facts wrong.

First, the U.N. World Food Program warned of a crisis more than six months ago, referring in news releases to conditions that would "bring Job to his knees" and to critical malnutrition. Unfortunately, our appeals went unanswered. The program depends totally on donations, and if a country fails to make the radar screen of the development institutions and aid agencies, we can do little but continue our warnings.

Second, Mr. Timberg made the BBC a hero for being the first to broadcast images of starving children. We are grateful to the BBC, but note that the first footage out of Niger was provided to the BBC and other networks by the World Food Program.

Third, while we urged free general food distribution for months, Niger held to a more limited approach. Supply shortfalls and commercial defaults also conspired to disrupt markets, as Mr. Timberg described in an Aug. 11 news article.

Finally, our emergency account is chronically underfunded and now stands at $26 million against a target of $70 million. Donors earmark 95 cents out of every dollar they give, which offers little flexibility to deal with a crisis such as the one in the Sahel.

It is not useful to assign blame to the donors, the United Nations or the nongovernmental organizations for what has happened in Niger. Sadly, Niger is not a country that matters to many -- it would not be the second-poorest in the world if it did. But we must stop averting our gaze from Niger and address the chronic hunger that claims the lives of thousands of children there every year.


Senior Deputy Executive Director

U.N. World Food Program