Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov

International community kills Niger with humanitarian aid

West African Niger ranks last in terms of development among African countries. Information about mass famine in Niger appears every year. Eighty percent of the state is taken by Sahara, however, not all neighboring states that are situated in similar conditions are as miserable as Niger. What are the real causes of what is happening in the African country?

Niger is a country in West Africa that borders on Nigeria, Algeria, Libya, Benin and Burkina Faso. The territory of Niger is a territory of the Sahel region that lies on both Sahara and southern fertile lands. This is the driest area of ​​the African continent, with average daily temperatures of 25 degrees above zero Centigrade. In addition to Niger, the region includes other "rogue" states such as Mali, Senegal and Sudan. 

In 1958, Niger gained independence. Before that, the country was a French colony. Niger's population currently stands at nearly 16 million. According to various sources, citizens of Niger suffer from hunger every year.

After 1960, the biggest food crisis in the country occurred in 1968-1973. It was caused with severe drought and the loss of livestock and crops. Famine killed 100,000 people at that time. Since 2005, the threat of hunger looms over the country almost every year. International news agencies regularly report on different measures that other countries of the world take to provide humanitarian aid to Niger. In 2005, a third of the population of Niger was suffering from hunger. According to the BBC, 7.5 million people were in need of food in 2010. "Worse than in 2005", headlines were saying.

Nowadays, in May 2013, Niger stands on the verge of hunger again. As many as 80,000 people are in a critical situation already; 800,000 more are at risk. Many of these people are forced to eat tree leaves. The harvest time comes in 3 months.

At the same time, food safety issues are discussed very year at conferences and summits of powerful international groups, such as G8 and G20. The UN and the United States endlessly help the hungry.

Photos of the children of Niger with their swollen bellies and wrinkled arms are horrifying. One can look at such photos for a very long time without even thinking about the causes that are hidden behind deadly African famine.

The first reason for the food problem, according to analysts of international organizations, is periodic droughts and floods. In February of 2012, UN coordinators Helen Clark and Valerie Amos visited Niger to draw attention to the problem of the food crisis. They noted that one-third of the population suffers from malnutrition, whereas 330,000 children are at risk of famine. However, the solution that was put forward was not new at all - the provision of humanitarian assistance. Nothing else has ever been said on the top level regarding the problem. "We can not control droughts, but we can control hunger," said Valerie Amos. In addition, the influx of immigrants from Mali exacerbates the situation. In 2012, there were thousands of them coming to Niger.

The uncontrolled population growth is also a reason, international experts say. At the beginning of the 2000s, Niger was a home to 12 million people. By 2013,  the population increased to 16 million. Niger ranks first in the world in terms of the population growth. However, if one looks at the situation soberly, these circumstances only make the situation worse. The roots of the problem are much deeper.

Nigeris a very young, independent state. In Niger's case, gaining independence after a long period of French colonization did not bring expected positive results. On the contrary, the production of agricultural products dropped even more, the economic development of the country did not take place, infrastructure remained at a low level. These factors would be the key to the development of the impoverished state, taking into account its life conditions. Only a few percent of all its land is suitable for planting agricultural products.

Niger's mineral resources are used irrationally (uranium, iron ore, phosphates, coal, tin, tungsten, tantalum, molybdenum, gold, manganese). Mainly foreign companies extract these natural resources. Agricultural products are produced by small farms who can hardly feed themselves. There is no irrigation, modern technologies and fertilizers are not used. A lot of the country's land has long been unusable and require remediation. Purchasing prices on food are low, while market selling prices are high.

The literacy rate in Niger is less than 30 percent. What kind of development can we talk about if there are no competent professionals in the country? This can only be an index of general degradation.

In addition, foreign businesses rent a lot of the country's land. That is, the country has nothing to use for the improvement of agriculture and production. 

Thus, having become an independent state, Niger lost much more than it gained. Being accustomed to help from the outside, the country was unable to develop and maintain its own economy. Foreign organizations, in their turn, only use Niger's resources. 

The country also suffers from the problems of political instability, corruption and fraud in the government. Here is a fresh fact. In February 2013, the authorities of Niger arrested officials of the country's Healthcare Ministry on charges of embezzlement of $2 million from donations to vaccination that Niger had received from the World Health Organization, the World Bank and the Gates Foundation.

The healthcare system of the country is in a deplorable condition too. Few people say that many people in Niger die from measles, pneumonia, whooping cough and typhoid fever, let alone hunger.

The country's leaders, as it seems, are not fully aware of the complexity of the situation. In 2005, then-president of Niger, Mamadou Tandja, was trying hard to conceal the facts of hunger in the country. The president said that reports about hunger in Niger were nothing but "foreign propaganda." The president also said that "people were well fed."

Every year, Niger requests enormous financial assistance. This year, for example, the country requested 354 million dollars (last year - $200 million). About $200 million has been received in 2013. In comparison with resources, which Niger gives away to foreigners, this is only a drop in the ocean. Grain and food prices continue to grow, and Niger, just like other African states, does not receive the above-mentioned amounts of financial assistance.

It is highly unlikely that officials from civilized countries do not understand all that. They prefer to simply feed Niger a little instead of building irrigation systems and restoring land. For the United Nations, long-term assistance is nothing but donations and grants.

In March of this year, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) developed a new project to assess the "scale" of hunger in different countries. The project was called "Voices of the Hungry." This is a new pilot project; its details have not been exposed to the public yet. The project will be launched in the poorest African countries, in particular, Niger. This may only mean that bureaucracy flourishes internationally. Obvious facts are not enough - they need more assessments and surveys.

Turkey reacted more or less reasonably to what is happening in Africa. Back in 2005, the Turkish Agency for International Cooperation and Development (TIKA) began to take part in the development of agriculture in Africa. In Niger, wells were drilled to supply water to farmers. In Somalia and Mali, farmers are taught methods of cultivation of tomatoes and potatoes. It is planned to assist in the development of cattle breeding and fishery.

Famine is a global problem, and it is a political, rather than an economic issue. The presence of hunger speaks of imperfections of social order. Unfortunately, the final settlement of the problem in Niger is not coming soon.

Sergei Vasilenko


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