NIAMEY - Floods could wipe out most of Niger’s main rice harvest this year as rain-swollen rivers rose to 50-year highs across West Africa, spreading devastation, a regional official said.

At least 81 people have been killed in Niger since annual rains caused flooding along the banks of the Niger River, raising its waters to their highest levels since the 1920s.

The country and surrounding region are still struggling to overcome food shortages caused by poor rains last year.

“In Niger ... most of the rainy season rice crop, estimated at over 80,000 tonnes, risks being destroyed this year,” Tiena Coulibaly, a Malian government minister told Niger’s state television.

Coulibaly was speaking after chairing a meeting of ministers in Niamey focused on tackling food shortages and increasing production. The comments were broadcast on Friday after a meeting on Thursday.

The European Union, one of Niger’s major donors said in a statement later on Friday that it has disbursed 19,678 billion CFA francs or 30 million euros ($39.44 billion) as part of a budgetary assistance measure, to help the country guarantee food security this year.

EU’s delegation in Niamey said in a statement that the funding, following a earlier 10 million euros disbursed in June, will go towards buying cereals to be resold at affordable prices, distributed freely or replenish the country’s stocks.

Niger, a country with high population growth that lies just south of the Sahara, produces about 130,000 tonnes of rice a year, with a dry season crop harvest bringing in about 50,000 tonnes.  Another 200,000-300,000 tonnes are imported to fill the gap in rising demand.