London (AFP) Aug 24, 2010
Aid agency Oxfam warned Tuesday of a "double disaster" for millions of people in Niger where heavy rains and flooding are compounding food shortages caused by a prolonged drought.
The United Nations says more than seven million people are facing starvation in Niger -- more than half the population -- following the drought, and Oxfam says the few crops that survived are now being destroyed by floods.
"It's a double disaster. Before the rains, people lacked food, now any small reserves of grain they had have been washed away by the water. Nothing remains," Ibrahim Mahaman, head of a flood-hit village, told the aid agency.
At last six people have died in the sub-Saharan country because of the heavy rains, which has pushed the Niger river to its highest level for more than 80 years and left nearly 70,000 people homeless, according to UN sources.
"Many crops and vegetables that would have provided crucial food to hungry families have been destroyed by floods," said Raphael Sindaye, Oxfam's deputy regional director in west Africa, in a statement issued in London.
"People who were praying for rains for their crops to grow have now lost everything."
He said Oxfam's aid operation was stretched "to the limit" as it tried to deal with "one of the worst food crises to hit the region in living memory".
"Niger urgently needs more money to fund not only the food crisis but also to help those hit by this second emergency," Sindaye said.
Last week, the UN announced a further 15 million dollars (12 million euros) for World Food Programme operations in Niger.
earlier related report
The visit is seen as an opportunity for the two countries to explore ways of expanding their already sizeable trade ties -- and also a chance for two emerging powers to solidify their strategic partnership.
Zuma -- who visits Beijing and Shanghai during a three-day trip he has called "crucial" -- was welcomed by Hu at Beijing's Great Hall of the People before the two leaders went into talks.
"The talks will surely take the relations between the two countries to greater heights," Zuma said in a speech to business leaders.
Among the agreements signed by the two sides was a deal to exempt diplomatic passport holders from visa requirements, China's Xinhua state news agency said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said the move would enhance mutual understanding, and facilitate personnel exchanges, Xinhua reported.
The two sides were also due to sign cooperation deals in the areas of mineral resources, transportation and environment management, according to Zuma's office.
China National Nuclear Corp, which runs the nation's growing nuclear energy programme, also is in talks to build a nuclear power plant in South Africa, Dow Jones Newswires quoted a company official as saying Tuesday.
China's Vice Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng said Beijing would encourage domestic companies to invest in South Africa's mining and resources sectors, the agency said.
It also reported South Africa's Standard Bank Group Ltd and state-run China Railway Group Ltd were to sign a memorandum of cooperation in Beijing on investments in African rail projects.
Bilateral trade -- which has been expanding since the establishment of full diplomatic relations in 1998 -- last year totalled about 16 billion dollars, according to figures from both countries.
"Trade statistics with China continue to reflect the potential that still exists for expanding the commercial relationship," the South African foreign ministry said before the visit.
Zuma said Tuesday that the expansion of foreign trade was a way for his country to "improve the quality of life of all South Africans".
China, which last year overtook the United States to become South Africa's largest export destination, mainly imports raw materials such as iron ore, as well as iron and steel, to fuel its booming economy.
Beijing also has unveiled a series of major investments since ploughing 5.5 billion dollars into Standard Bank nearly three years ago.
In May, Chinese companies reached deals to build a 217-million-dollar cement plant and invest 877 million dollars to take control of a small South African mining company and build a new platinum mine.
South African Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies on Tuesday told business leaders in Beijing that his country's exports were too dependent on primary goods and that he hoped Beijing could buy more "value-added" goods.
Zuma, who is accompanied by a number of key ministers and 350 business leaders, is due to meet Premier Wen Jiabao and other senior Chinese officials on Wednesday. He was due to visit the World Expo in Shanghai on Thursday.
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