Zinder, Niger U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan visited skeletal babies in Niger and heard villagers' pleas for help Tuesday, seeking to put attention on 5 million northwest Africans left short of food after their crops were ravaged by drought and locusts.
The United Nations was among the first, in November, to warn of the impending hunger crisis in the desert region, but its appeals for aid were largely ignored.
Niger President Mamadou Tandja, who has accused U.N. officials, aid groups and opposition parties of exaggerating his country's problems for political and economic gain, welcomed Annan at the airport in the eastern city of Zinder.
With an entourage of more than 100 officials and journalists, Annan toured Zinder's main hospital. He spoke to mothers about their problems, standing near dozens of emaciated children in beds, some with IV drips in their arms.
An estimated 3.6 million people are going hungry in Niger alone. The United Nations says at least 1.6 million people in Mali, Burkina Faso and Mauritania are also affected.
Niger's government and the United Nations issued largely ignored appeals for aid starting in November and top U.N. officials criticized donors for their failure to help. Earlier this month, U.N. agencies increased their appeals to a total of $75 million for Niger.