You might be surprised to see a post about Niger on a blog with a South Asian theme, but there is a connection. The same global aid system that worked so well in getting aid to countries in South and South East Asia after the Tsunami, failed to react fast enough to prevent a disaster in Niger. It is even argued that the outpouring of generosity that was shown the people affected by the Tsunami, deflected attention away from this other preventable crisis. The Washington Post reports:
“We always are hearing, ‘They have given something, they have given something.’ But on the ground, we have not seen it yet,” said Ibrahim, his words tumbling out in rush of frustration. “We are crying, ‘Why are they not giving to us? Why are they not giving to us? Our children are dying.’ “
Actually, international donors are giving to Niger — $22.8 million has been contributed so far to ease its food crisis — but the help is arriving too late for many children here. The reasons, said aid workers and analysts, have more to do with miscalculation and hesitation by the international aid bureaucracy, which initially underestimated the severity of the crisis, than with the reluctance of the world to pitch in once the extent of suffering became clear.
“This is not a story of donors being mean,” said Paul Harvey of the Overseas Development Institute, a research group based in London. “This is a story of a failed system.”
Although the hunger crisis was brewing for many months, it was not until the BBC aired several dramatic reports from Niger in July that major donations began to pour in. Moreover, officials of the U.N. World Food Program said they initially tapped only $1.4 million from their emergency reserves for Niger, fearing a larger commitment would leave them unable to respond to other crises.
Not everyone was taken by surprise. Remember during the Tsunami when Nobel Peace Prize winners MSF took the unusual step of declaring that they had received enough aid, and that all incoming donations would be used for other causes? People kept giving to them anyways, perhaps because of their great reputation. They lived up to their pledge:
The contrast between the U.N. response and that of Doctors Without Borders, which is privately funded, is striking.
At clinics run by Doctors Without Borders in Niger, doctors saw cases of severe malnutrition surge in January and triple by March. In April, the group put a $13 million plan into action that enabled it to set up more clinics and feeding centers and send triage teams into the worst-hit areas. Almost all the money had been raised since the tsunami, when the group used the huge outpouring of donations to create an emergency fund for less visible crises.
Hopefully crisis response gets the most attention when Bush’s lackluster recess appointee John Bolton goes into action and starts cleaning house as U.N. Ambassador. A proper response to issues like this, vastly more important than terrorism in my opinion (especially when considering the number of lives involved), actually help prevent future terrorism as an added benefit. For example, take this column I found on AllAfrica.com:
But the question is: why is nobody doing quite near to what is expected? Where is the international community that made the South Asian Tsunami the world’s priority agenda throughout much of last year? Why are the warnings from Niger Republic ignored, until the matter is almost beyond help?
The answer is as simple as it is regrettable. Despite the heroic roles played by Westerners as individuals and by some of their private charitable organisations, the sad fact remains that a country struck by disaster is in real trouble as far as Western governments are concerned, unless it has one or all of three things–resources worth stealing, beaches for European tourists or oil in abundance. Unfortunately for Niger, it has none of these things–and uranium is nowadays an international “no-go” area. That may be the unfortunate explanation for the delay and hesitation seen in the international response to the tragedy in Niger Republic.
How unfortunate. The whole truth is irrelevant when words can be spun like they are in the excerpt above to create more people that despise the U.S. and the noble intentions of most of its citizens.