Thursday, June 02, 2005

Famine alert in Niger

Regarding my essay yesterday, there is one news item I didn't want to get overlooked in my broader missive on sustainable development.

There is a hunger emergency in the west African state of Niger.

Of the 12 million inhabitants in Niger, 3.6 million are affected by the food security crisis. Of these, 2.5 million urgently need life-saving support, noted the UN's humanitarian chief Jan Egeland.

Some two and a half weeks ago, he UN appealed for a meager $16.2 million to deal with this crisis but no help has been forthcoming.

Today, several thousand people marched in the Nigerien capital Niamey to protest government inaction. Only last week, the government denied that there was a food crisis at all, according to the weekly paper Le Républicain.

Feeling the pressure, Nigerien authorities have finally spoken out.

"Almost three million people in Niger are today at risk of hunger." said the country's prime minister Hama Amadou. "I want to....solemnly launch an anguished appeal to the international community for emergency food aid."

The food shortage was caused by a lack of rain, even by the standards of the normally arid Sahel. It was exacerbated by last year's invasion of locusts, which devastated crops. An invasion that could've been prevented, or at least whose damage could've been limited, had earlier UN appeal generated response. A far smaller appeal than the one made to clean up the post-locust devastation.

But, the international community responds far more generously to crises after they erupt even though far smaller sums invested in prevention could avoid the problem altogether. Sadly, I expect that international aid to Niger won't be forthcoming until AFTER kids becoming sufficiently skeleton-like to be broadcast into western living rooms.

Want to help now, before it's too late? Make a donation to the World Food Programme. Their website notes that the WFP receives no dues or portions of the UN assessed contributions. All government support is on an entirely voluntary basis.

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