http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/4698943.stm Niger's President Mamadou Tanja has visited the country's south to see firsthand the extent of food shortages. The BBC's Hilary Andersson in southern Niger says starved children are dying every day in the feeding centres there. The top United Nations aid official has accused the international community of reacting slowly to the crisis in Niger. Jan Egeland said 2.5 million need food and without it 150,000 children will soon die because drought and plagues of locusts destroyed last year's crop. Tortured bodies Our correspondent says that fewer than one in 10 of the starving even make it to the few feeding centres in the stricken region. For those who make it, the suffering does not end there, our correspondent adds. The malnourished children lay in tents suffering marasmus, the medical name for the condition of starvation when the body begins to waste. Many display extremely slow reactions caused by the body's metabolism slowing down dramatically, while others are tortured by infections in their mouths and lungs that they can no longer fight. "Niger is the example of a neglected emergency, where early warnings went unheeded," Mr Egeland told the BBC. The UN's Niger appeal in May initially failed to attract a single pledge. But the government there has also sought to play down the scale of the crisis. It has refused demands to distribute free food and has been criticised for not doing more to prepare for the food shortages. 'Too late' The crisis was widely predicted after last year's poor harvests, following poor rains and locust invasions. "The world wakes up when we see images on the TV and when we see children dying," Mr Egeland told the BBC's World Today programme. "We have received more pledges in the past week than we have in six months. But it is too late for some of these children." The slow response has greatly increased the cost of dealing with the crisis, aid workers say. "The funding needs are sky-rocketing because it's a matter of saving lives," UN World Food Programme Niger representative Gian Carlo Cirri said. "The pity is we designed a preventative strategy early enough, but we didn't have the chance to implement it." Aid shortfall Mr Egeland said it would have cost $1 a day to prevent children becoming malnourished but it was now costing $80 a day to save a child's life. Aid workers in Niger say that up to a quarter of Niger's 12 million people need food aid. The UN has now received just a third of the $30m it had asked for, Mr Egeland said. The UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs also said that beyond immediate food aid, the world should help Niger improve its agricultural methods to avoid future food crises - but this programme had received even fewer pledges. He said the $30m requested for both short - and long-term aid "was nothing". "Europeans eat ice cream for $10bn a year and Americans spend $35bn on their pets each year."