Monday, August 08, 2005

President 'No Famine'

Britain's The Independent has a couple stories on the widespread famine in Niger (via Raw Story).

Children are starving.

In "Aid too late for Niger's 'forgotten' children" Kim Sengupta reports:

"Eight months after the United Nations launched its first appeal, warning of famine in Niger, three months after assistant secretary general Jan Egeland called it the "the number one forgotten and neglected emergency in the world" graves are being dug every day. The warning of another senior UN official, Jan Ziggler, that "the children, the sick, the elderly are on the brink of being wiped out", is coming true."


"With 2.6 million people to feed, more than 800,000 children under five, only a fraction of the desperately needed food is getting in now despite emergency air-lifts by the UN and international aid agencies."

"The cause is the delay in the international community's reaction despite repeated warnings of the unfolding tragedy. Alister Shields, a logistics officer with Save The Children, said: "We are now paying $3 a kilo to fly in aid, and it is not coming in fast enough. If only the appeal was heeded earlier, that money would have been used to set up local supplies in Africa and we could have brought in supplies by sea at one third of the price. This is a crisis which could and certainly should have been averted."

"Niger hardly featured in the G8's much-vaunted Africa initiative with nothing said about its food crisis. Nor was it mentioned by organisers of the Live8 concert. Aid workers and locals talk bitterly about "bands playing as children were dying"."

How does this happen? Why are children starving anywhere in the world?

Is it the fault of the leaders?

The BBC News is running a story today called "Niger president downplays hunger":

"Mr Tanja said the idea of a famine was being exploited for political and economic gain."

"We are experiencing like all the countries in the Sahel a food crisis due to the poor harvest and the locust attacks of 2004," Mr Tanja said.

"He said if it were a real famine, shanty towns would form around the big towns, people would flee to neighbouring countries and street beggars would become more prevalent. Mr Tanja said this had not happened."

"There is no famine in Niger," he said. "All those who are saying there is a famine either have political motivations or an economic interest.

The blind lead the starving.

From Royal African Society:

"All these patterns of behaviour were observed and recorded last year, and in November the Nigerien Government and the WFP launched an appeal for money to buy food. In January a nutrition survey suggested that up to 350,000 children under the age of five could be suffering from malnutrition. President Mamadou Tanja, however, was reluctant to allow WFP to launch a full emergency programme. No one is quite sure why. Some talk of the power of the grain traders who gang up on the Government and insist that no extra grain is imported because it lowers the price. Others suggest that he may have been concerned about the image of Niger as a helpless country that could not feed itself. Maybe he did not realise that this was an exceptionally bad year. When he visited Washington and met President Bush earlier this year, he did not mention the famine."

President Tanja just met with President Bush less than two months ago on June 13th.

According to

"Meeting with the leaders from Mozambique, Botswana, Niger, Ghana and Namibia, President George W. Bush welcomes President Mamadou Tandja of Niger to the Oval Office Monday, June 13, 2005. The leaders discussed a range of topics, including AGOA. "All the Presidents gathered here represent countries that have held democratic elections in the last year," said President Bush. "What a strong statement that these leaders have made about democracy and the importance of democracy on the continent of Africa."

It seems doubtful that famine entered into the "range of topics" since the president of Niger doesn't believe in it.

I wonder what the President of Mali thinks.

Writing for the Associated Press, Edward Harris reports that "Mali's food crisis goes little noticed":

"While the world's attention has been fixed on famished Niger, Sidi Mohammed's big, tearful eyes and cries of hunger reveal another food crisis unfolding next door."

"The year-old baby, mewling as his mother tries to feed him a cup of vitamin-rich gruel provided by aid workers, is one of an estimated 1.5 million of Mali's 11 million people are said to be facing hunger, among them an estimated 144,000 children already suffering malnourishment."

"Aid workers say they fear a replay of what happened in neighboring Niger, where the world ignored repeated warnings and only rushed in aid in recent weeks when images of starving children hit TV screens."

"The U.N. World Food Program said an appeal for $7.5 million was facing a shortfall of 85 percent, which it called "devastating."

Will it never end?

The famine all across Sudan hasn't gone away, either.

If you can afford to donate some money to feed some starving children, please go to the Website for the United Nations' World Food Programme and give what you can.


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