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Widespread Famine Plagues Niger

Widespread Famine Plagues NigerAccording to experts from the Feinstein International Famine Center at Tufts, disasters like the famine in Niger could be prevented with better planning and efficient response.

Boston [08.15.05] The African nation of Niger is currently plagued by widespread famine resulting from years of drought and a recent locust plague. Though the world has reacted by providing much-needed aid and funding, two Tufts experts in the area of humanitarian response say that such crises can be averted with more efficient aid distribution and disaster planning.

"Alarm bells should have been going off when the livestock in the pastures in Niger started to get thin. But we have to wait until the actual children are dying before there’s a significant response," Timothy Leyland, head of the Africa team for the Feinstein International Famine Center at Tufts, told WBUR's Here and Now. The Famine Center is part of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.

The lack of an early warning infrastructure, contends Leyland, is largely responsible for much of the destruction in Niger and other famine-stricken regions.

"At the end of the day, it’s the government’s responsibility to look after its people. And, admittedly, it’s a poor government, but it’s getting significant resources from the international community for its annual budget," he said. "Could not some of those resources be channeled into, for example, appropriate early warning systems that look at the livelihoods of the pastures in northern Niger?"

In these regions, livestock are not only the main resource, but the central provider of wealth. The question is how to best take advantage of these existing resources.

Despite a global effort to combat hunger, African hunger is still rising – a sign, says Leyland, that the world is not doing enough. Countries unable to fund a famine early warning system are "another disaster just waiting to happen,” says the Tufts expert,

"Why is the international community, the private sector, not investing in Africa? Because they somehow lack confidence in the governance of Africa," Leyland told WBUR.

"The diversification of how those people make a living is important, but we’re dealing with extremely dry and remote areas.What else are they going to do?" Leyland asks. "A few can keep bees, some can collect gum Arabic, and some can make artifacts for tourists. But that’s not going to keep the whole population going."

"There is a growing demand globally for livestock and livestock products. Can we not somehow link up the people who are good at producing livestock to the markets that need those products?" Leyland said

Another concern is that when crisis strikes, people tend to sell off their livestock assets, disturbing the market.

"You have to sell the cattle when you need to turn that into money to buy food," Peter Walker, director of the Famine Center, told New England Cable News. "The trouble with this sort of famine is when all of the fodder disappears because of locusts and infestation, the cattle are skinny and dying, people sell them off in large numbers and the price plummets… it’s an economic thing not just a food thing."

Though governments may be quick to respond to a tragedy when it gains attention – such as through graphic images on newspapers and television – the Tufts humanitarian experts say that such a response is inefficient and can drain funds needed for other humanitarian emergencies around the world.

"It shouldn’t be like rattling a tin can on a corner to get money for each emergency," explained Walker. "It should be much more like a social welfare system, where you have a built-in system, almost like an international tax, if you like, so that agencies know what funds they are going to get and are able to respond in time."

The consequences of the current system are that there often isn't enough money to go around.

"The organizations that want to help are living hand to mouth. The grounds are often no more than a few months in duration whilst the emergency is happening and then they dry up," Leyland said on WBUR.

"It’s a crying shame that even now the appeals going out from the United Nations are less than half funded," Walker told NECN. "We’ve got the information now, we have the early warning systems, we have the logistics ability to deal with these crises…it’s the funding that’s not there now."
























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