George Osodi, Associated Press
A child sits near his mother Tuesday at the MSF feeding center in Maradi, Niger. Drought and locusts have cut Niger's food supplies.

Thousands of starving children and adults in the African nation of Niger will soon be nourished by a lifesaving porridge being airlifted in through a partnership between the LDS Church and Catholic Relief Services.

Some 80,000 pounds of Atmit — an easily digested nutritional supplement made of oat flour, nonfat milk, sugar, vitamins and minerals — was loaded onto trucks Wednesday at the local Bishop's Central Storehouse. It is now being trucked to JFK International in New York City and then will be airlifted to Niger by DHL Danzas Air and Ocean.

The Atmit is scheduled to arrive Aug. 15 and be immediately distributed to some of the hard-hit regions of the country, according to Jeff Price, a CRS aid worker in Niger. He said the shipment will go to the towns of Dogondoutchi and Tanout, about 200 miles from nation's capital, close to the border with Nigeria.

Price said once the porridge arrives, it will be turned over to another humanitarian partner, the Helen Keller Institute, along with about $250,000 from CRS for immediate distribution. Only a few of the nation's roads are paved, making overland travel difficult.

Broadcast news reports out of Niger earlier this week examined the extent of the crisis there, noting last year's severe drought and a locust infestation has left 3.6 million people facing severe food shortages and has depleted the country's supply of seeds for future planting. Though the United Nations notified industrialized nations late last year that the crisis was looming, subsequent disasters, including the tsunami relief efforts throughout Indonesia and Asia, shifted much of the world's humanitarian focus.

Niger is the second-poorest nation on the planet, with a majority of its people subsisting on less than $1 per day.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints donated the emergency relief after being contacted by Catholic Relief Services.

John Rivera, a spokesman for CRS in Baltimore, said his agency and the LDS Church have long been partners on relief projects, most recently during the Ethiopian famine in 2003. Personnel with CRS contacted the church because "they have a product we could not get anywhere else. It's just desperately needed in this situation."

Atmit is produced locally at the Welfare Square production plant. It is mixed as a warm beverage and fed five to seven times per day to people in the last stages of starvation whose digestive systems can no longer process normal food. Two pounds of Atmit can save the life of a child or an elderly person.

Rivera said CRS usually accepts only cash donations, rather than actual foodstuffs, because the cost of shipping is prohibitive. While other nutritional products are available, "I don't think anything (else) works as well for us" to nourish those on the brink of starvation, he said.

Kevin Nield, director of Bishop's Storehouse Services for LDS Church's Welfare Department, said the church and Catholic Relief Services have partnered on many relief projects since 1986. "On this one, CRS is in the lead role, and we're participating with them on this shipment."

Contributions to the church's Humanitarian Aid Fund by both LDS members and others make it possible for the church to participate in such relief efforts. "There's great appreciation for the volunteer efforts and donations. Much good is being done, and (the church) will continue to reach out a helping hand where needed."

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