Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Niger hunger (again)

In 2010 and 2011, I wrote a several times about Niger. The situation there caught my attention. It is one of the reasons I decided to focus my energies and my attention on food security. It's harder to write the second time around.

Niger is back where they were a couple of years ago. With a better governance situation - a democratically elected civilian leader who has shown his willingness to announce way in advance that a food security crisis is coming - and a better response from the international community - thank you EU. But they're still there. 14.7 million people are, once again, facing hunger, malnutrition and starvation.

Just two years after the last disaster, this Care story captures the depth of the problem: Our stocks are gone. This Guardian headline is pretty accurate, too: Niger struggles to feed itself at the best of times – these are the worst of times. Sadly the Guardian article buys into the somewhat bizarre preoccupation media reports on Niger seem to have with population growth - with all the implicit assertions that the famine is their fault. It's not. People don't choose the drought and pestilence that leaves their children dying as a result of malnutrition.

Niger needs help. It needs donors and international agencies to provide life-saving emergency relief. It needs government to live up to the promise to invest 15% in agriculture. It needs everyone to take livelihoods, and particularly livestock-based livelihoods, seriously. It needs the international community to take a real, hard look at saving livelihoods and lives. And it needs the international media to consider seriously the difficulty of sustaining livelihoods through recurrent famines, the structural realities that keep Niger at the bottom of the HDI and the immediate triggers of the food crisis (drought, pests), rather than fixating on the Malthusian myth that Niger goes hungry because they have too many babies.

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