Starvation in Niger
You'd think right on the heels of the Live 8 hype, the world would be doing something about this, no? The response to the crisis, which was building throughout the Edinburgh hoopla, appears to be dramatically too little and too late. And people wonder why there is popular discontent fueling Islamic extremism in this part of the world. Via TruthOut:
Up to 150,000 Face Starvation in Niger
The Guardian UK
Thursday 21 July 2005
Poor harvest and late aid response blamed for crisis.
Thousands of children are starving to death in Niger because the international community has been too slow to respond to the country's food crisis, UN officials and aid workers said yesterday.
They warned that the numbers dying could rise to 150,000 without urgent aid.
More than 25% of Niger's 12 million people are short of food and 20% of its children are thought to be suffering moderate to severe malnutrition.
Niger suffered a poor harvest of its staple grain, millet, as a result of poor rains and an infestation of locusts, and aid agencies warn that many thousands are so severely malnourished that even emergency food relief may be too late to save them.
They are urgently setting up feeding centers across a country which is regarded as the second poorest in the world. The Niger government says its effort to feed about 1.3 million people has been hampered by the limited response to its appeal last month for €35m (£25m) to buy food.
"There is late and there is too late," said Toby Porter, emergencies director of Save the Children UK. "The international community has been late to respond. We are now racing so that our relief is not too late for Niger's children."
He added: "The United Nations made a flash appeal in May for $18m [£10m]. That's small change in international aid terms, but there was little response.
"It is only in the past few days, once television cameras brought the images of starving children into people's homes, that proper funding has come in."
Mr. Porter pointed out that Niger's crisis "began at precisely the time of the Live 8 concerts and the G8 meeting at Gleneagles, yet the world could not find the money needed to intervene. It is sad and unacceptable. There is no war in Niger, no rebel groups, no despots, no problems getting the aid in, it is just poverty. And kids are starving to death.
"It's not good enough. The public does not want to see this happen. We are not prepared to sit back and watch this horror coming through our television screens. It is simply because so many people in Niger are desperately poor, so many people living below the poverty line that a small shock creates a humanitarian disaster."
In Maradi, 500 miles east of the capital, Niamey, Save the Children is setting up feeding centers.
"We have already identified 15,000 children who urgently need assistance in this area," said Nick Abrahams, Save the Children's team manager in Maradi.
Mr. Abrahams said the number of children needing food was rising rapidly.
"All I see is a lot of children who need urgent assistance and I want to get it to them as soon as possible. We also need to get rations to their families, so their older brothers and sisters avoid severe malnourishment."
The aid agency Concern is setting up a scheme to feed 6,000 children a month with "plumpy nut", a fortified peanut butter compound which is effective for severely malnourished people.
Nigel Tricks, Concern's country director in Niamey, said: "We were making noise to get a response from the international community, but it was not forthcoming. Now we are responding to the immediate crisis. But we need to look at the ongoing crisis. This society has not been working well for years. That must be addressed."
Niger is one of the world's least developed countries. It is ranked 176th out of 177 in the UN's human development index. Sixty-three per cent of its population live below the poverty line. In the Maradi and Zinder regions about 350 children out of every 1,000 die before their fifth birthday.
France, Niger's former colonial power, announced it was donating €2m to add to an existing €3m pledge to the country earlier this year. Britain said yesterday that it would give an extra £1.5m.
In May, the Department for International Development gave £500,000 to the world food program in response to the UN flash appeal. But many other rich countries have yet to send help.
"We need more donations," Seidou Bakari, the coordinator of the Niger government's food crisis unit, told Reuters. "At the moment we have used all our reserves, we have nothing."
"Niger is the example of a neglected emergency, where early warnings went unheeded," said Jan Egeland, the UN under secretary general for humanitarian affairs.
See our last post on the Sahel.