Leading article: Why did no one hear the alarm bells from Niger?

Share
Related Topics

The carousel of blame has begun over this African country. It is all the fault of the G8 leaders who gathered at Gleneagles and pledged that aid to Africa would double by 2010, even as children perished in the Niger desert sands. It is the fault of the international community which ignored last November's UN reports of a looming crisis. It is the fault of the World Food Programme for having cried wolf too many times before.

Then there were the aid agencies, who sent out press releases but did not prioritise Niger's case. There was the media which in Britain, between November and March, printed just 65 words about the problem. And the International Monetary Fund and the European Union who pressed Niger too hard to implement an economic adjustment programme that contributed to sharp rises in the prices of staple foods. Finally, there is the President of Niger, Mamadou Tanja, who mysteriously did not even mention the imminent crisis when he met Britain's aid minister, Hilary Benn, in February and US President George Bush in April.

In one sense, the blame trail hardly matters. What is clear is that the one group who bears least responsibility are the children, women and men who are now dying daily as a result. So what is to be done?

It is no good ignoring the context here. Niger is the second poorest place on earth. Most of the country is desert and its rapidly rising population of 11.5 million people depends heavily on the 20 per cent of the land in the south which is savannah, where livestock and crops compete for resources. But even in a good year there is hardly ever enough food to feed its people, a third of whom live in extreme poverty. A quarter of small children die before their fifth birthday, even without famine. Even the most marginal shift in production can have disastrous consequence here.

There is no quick fix for that, though there is hope in the measures agreed at Gleneagles. Niger is one of the 18 countries that qualify for its debt relief. Aid will assist it to develop what are the world's third-largest reserves of uranium. A stronger economy would be able to store grain to deal with localised crop failures. But it will take decades for the G8 package to impact.

Two things must be done. Most importantly, the public must hold the G8 leaders to what they agreed at Gleneagles. Their pledges must not be allowed to join the long litany of broken promises over Africa. (Already, for all the fine words on trade, rich nations have been backsliding on reducing farm subsidies and improving market access for Africa in the preparatory talks on trade in Geneva last week). But, most urgently, reform is needed to the way the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs works.

Last month, this newspaper said that the UN standing fund of just $50,000 (£28,000) to respond to emergencies quickly should be increased to $500,000. Hilary Benn has gone one better and proposed that the UN's Millennium Development Summit next month should agree a $1bn emergency fund, which rich countries would top up whenever a crisis depletes it.

Yet the world cannot escape the fact that early warning systems were in place in Niger and, over the past 10 months, they worked exactly as they were designed to. The problem was their alarm bells fell on deaf ears all round. That should be on the conscience of us all.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nicola Sturgeon could have considerable influence over David Cameron in a hung parliament  

General Election 2015: What if Cameron were to end up in hock to the SNP?

Steve Richards
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before