Humanitarian Catastrophe in Niger: Where is This Story?

The buzz-words of the moment are Naomi Campbell and blood diamonds, Cristiano Ronaldo and his troupe of girlfriends and the (sickeningly close) new soccer season. However, where is the story about the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Niger? (Where?) where 670,000 children are at risk of starving to death and eight million people need emergency food assistance?

It is the duty of the international press to inform, first and foremost, while at the same time making a profit to keep the show on the road. Yet there is a difference between a sensationalist press which does nothing but perpetrate its own existence at the expense of Wow! stories and a responsible international press which provides an information service. So where, in the international press, is the Niger story (covered in this column several times in the recent months)?

The humanitarian situation is calamitous. Prolonged drought has led to a continued failure in harvests and the death of livestock on a massive scale, rendering the populations of vast swathes of this land-locked North African state without income and without food.

The crisis is so severe that according to the UN World Food Program, it currently affects no less than eight million people (in need of emergency food aid) including 670,000 children under the age of two. The last harvest in September 2009 failed, sending growing numbers of vulnerable people over the edge, increasing malnutrition rates and now is the time, ahead of the next harvest, that already dwindling stocks are at their lowest point.

The UNO states that “According to national surveys conducted in May and June, acute malnutrition rates among children under the age of five stand at 16.7 per cent – above the 15% emergency threshold”.

The WFP Director for the North Africa Region, Thomas Yanga, stated in an article on the UN website that “People in Niger have suffered intensely from this protracted drought,” adding that “It is critical to provide for the needs of these malnourished children”.

The WFP is currently trying to address the issue, distributing a corn/soya blend ration to the children, while four million people will receive 50 kilos of cereals, 5 kg of pulses and oil.

As usual, the main problem of the program is funding and as usual the crux of the matter as regards successfully delivering and implementing a policy which will solve the problem are donors who pledge but do not deliver. So far, only 60 per cent of the agency’s 213 m. USD programme is catered for, prompting Thomas Yanga to issue this urgent request:

“It is crucial that donors continue to come forward as soon as possible if we are to prevent the loss of a whole generation of children to malnutrition and food insecurity”.

Yet it appears today’s world is more interest in Cristiano Ronaldo’s navel, Naomi Campbell’s curves and the puerile and studied inanity of the upcoming sickeningly boring soccer season.



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Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey