Food by the truckload is finally reaching remote northern Niger, eight months after the first pleas for help for the hungry.

Almost a third of Niger's population of 11.7 million is at risk of starvation in this already desperately poor West African country, hit first by locusts and then drought.

Children are the most vulnerable -- about 800,000 under age 5 are suffering from hunger, including 150,000 suffering severe malnutrition, aid workers say.

But repeated U.N. appeals beginning in November went almost unanswered until the situation reached crisis proportions.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, visiting the capital, Niamey, chided the international community on Saturday for its "indifference and avarice." France said it was tripling some aid to Niger, its former colony.

"We thank God, even if the food came a little late," said Mohammed Abdoulaye of the Agency for Muslims in Africa, an aid group in this predominantly Muslim country.

Since July, the agency's feeding center in the southern city of Maradi has admitted about 700 mothers and children, feeding them every day.

"With what we just received, we can do even more, send the mothers home with some extra food," Abdoulaye said, as a group of women, some wearing long veils, pounded sorghum or stirred pots filled with rice for lunch.

In Paris, the Foreign Ministry released a letter French President Jacques Chirac had sent to the president of Niger, Mamadou Tandja, announcing that France would triple development aid to $5.5 million to help the country feed itself.