Leading article: The shameful delay in giving food aid to Niger


The first flight carrying British aid left Bristol yesterday for Niger, where more than three million people, including one million children, are facing starvation after a drought and a plague of locusts swept through the stricken African country. It is, as so often, too little too late.

Aid agencies have been warning of a developing crisis in west Africa since last October. A month later, the United Nations issued the first official appeal to Western donor countries for help, and got almost no response. It appealed again in March and got just $1m (£570,000). In May, it upped its appeal to $18m as famine loomed. To date, it has received only about a fifth of what it called for - with most money coming from Sweden, Norway and Luxembourg. Other governments promised they would give, but did not even get round to saying how much. Even when Africa was centre stage at the G8 summit in Gleneagles, the money still did not come.

It would be facile to blame the G8 summit for that. It made significant moves on aid and debt - the long-term structural issues which address what keeps Africa poor. In Niger, 82 per cent of the population relies on subsistence farming and more than half the population lives in poverty, and a third in poverty so extreme that one in four young children routinely dies there each year, even without famine. It will take a decade or more for the G8 package to impact on that.

But addressing long-term issues does not mean we can take our eye off the short-term crises. More money has come in for Niger in the past 10 days than over the past 10 months. That is because more than 1,000 starving children have been admitted to Médecins sans Frontières emergency feeding programmes every week for the past month. And this time, television cameras were there to see it. Because of their condition, and because the food aid which should have been trucked in months ago now has to be flown in, it costs £50 to save a child who could have been helped for 50p had the world responded when it was first asked.

Some swift practical changes could be introduced to address that. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has a standing fund of just $50,000 to respond to emergencies quickly. And it is only for loans, which must be repaid. Rich nations should increase that fund to $500,000 - to be dispersed as grants not loans - to respond immediately while donor governments are being persuaded of the need to act.

But the world needs to answer a more profound question. Why is it that, time after time, the governments of the rich world wait until the pictures of skeletal children fill our television screens before deciding we must act?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month  

General Election 2015: Politics is the messy art of compromise, unpopular as it may be

David Blunkett
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'