Niger's military government has started an unprecedented drive to distribute free food to one million of the nearly 10 million of its population facing hunger due to failed rains last year, it has announced. The United Nations said late last month donors had only covered a third of the $190 million aid needed to stave off a possible famine in the West African state, which consistently ranks among the poorest nations in the world.

Most NGOs and UN agencies in Niger agree that in 2010 humanitarian actors are better geared to respond to the food security crisis than they were in 2005, but some say there is a risk of repeating mistakes in information-sharing, planning appropriate responses, and raising funds more quickly. "There are similarities to 2005 that donors and the aid community must heed in order to avert a disaster in 2010," warned CARE, an NGO focusing on poverty eradication, in a communiqué on 26 April.

For hundreds of people seeking refuge in Niger's capital from ever-growing food shortages in the country's interior, this sprawling cluster of straw huts is the first stop. Seydou Sidi, 76, a village chief has seen his neighbourhood in Quaratadji, located some 15 km (9 miles) outside the capital Niamey, swell by more than 200 people in the last three months.

Niger is threatened with total crop failure in some areas and the situation is worse than the 2005 crisis, the UN humanitarian chief has told the BBC. But John Holmes said the new government is co-operating in aid efforts.

French state-owned company Areva continues to deny any wrongdoing after findings that populated areas in Niger remain contaminated with high levels of radio-activity. The company seems to be escaping censure partly because of lack of data on cancer-related causes of death among Nigeriens working at or living near the uranium mines.