Niger vs. the Tsunami

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

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.

13 thoughts on “Niger vs. the Tsunami

  1. Not to sound like a totally heartless bastard and with the realization that I am ignorant of many things, I ask the question: What is Niger doing to alleviate its own problems?

    From what you’ve posted, it partially seems like Niger is unfairly placing their burdens on the backs of American humanitarian citizens.

  2. From what you’ve posted, it partially seems like Niger is unfairly placing their burdens on the backs of American humanitarian citizens.

    What part of what I posted left you with that impression? I didn’t see any quotes from any of Niger’s officials above. Maybe I missed some in the articles though that you are refering to.

    Niger does have plenty of problems. Here is one of the biggest.

  3. The New York Times has an excellent article on the flavor-of-the-month nature of international aid, specifically focusing on Niger. The article also points out how much more expensive it is to address problems when they reach crisis mode, as opposed to when they are still manageable.

  4. Even in the best of times, Niger is a a pretty impoverished place. I don’t remember the statistics, but, even in a regular year, the infant mortality due to malnutrition is one of the highest in the world. This year its been especially bad due to a long period of drought and last year’s locust infestation that obliteratred almost 100% of staple crops in most areas.

    However, to address Sandeep A.’s point, Niger does need to address it’s chronic food insecurity. A few weeks ago in the Washington Post, a UNFP official spoke about primitive farming methods in Niger . Until the people of Niger of equipped with the proper tools, methods of irrigation, etc, this is going to be an ongoing problem for the rest of the world.

    This is not saying that we shouldn’t send money to Niger. We should. But, very few articles have been talking about long term solutions.

  5. how much of this tepid response to the tragedy in Niger has to do with prejudice? i just want to know what people think. do biases play a role when it comes to who gets aid?

    personally, i think it has more to do with “shock value”. we’ve been seeing images of starving children in Africa for so long, it’s now become a stereotype (according to my Ethiopian friends). it’s nothing new to the west. we’ve become desensitized to such news. our eyes glaze over, it seems so far away. i also think there is (as exemplified by the first comment here) a sense that somehow, this was a disaster of their own making, though i don’t know anyone who makes locusts.

    the tsunami…that was out of our/their control. south/southeast asia didn’t “ask” for that. it was horrifying, an event right out of a movie. it shocked us into acting.

  6. I’m from Nigeria. Niger is our northern neighbor. It’s in the Sahara. The Lake Tchad is totally dry for the most part. It’s naturally a dry region and so it doesn’t take much to make things go over the brink. To make it worse, after colonial times, (a well known fact) French Saharan Africa was divided on some weird logic that didn’t take into consideration that perhaps the local people hate each other. So you end up having groups that have issues with each other in the same country, and so that becomes a problem.

    But the biggest problem is that the common man has a simple attitude to life – wake up, milk the cow or do whatever he does, come home, feed the family, relax. Common man doesn’t understand the deeper meaning of a government or the voice of the group. So it becomes easy for a dictator to take over the place for his own private benefits.

    This is the same problem in The Sudan, Niger, Congo and other “republics”.

    Nigeria, on the other hand, has a much more involved populace and so their problems are more those of a country trying to come to terms with how to run itself than a country that’s trying to define what sort of a piece of land it is to begin with.

  7. May be it is one year thing, last few posts on Sepia Mutiny have been extremely boring off late. I can understand slow news day, but to get some obscure news and tie it under the “South Asia” crap does not make sense.

    Go Sepias and find some interesting stuff.

  8. It was the last excerpt in this post. Although that isn’t a direct quote from a Nigerian official, it implies Niger’s unfair dependence on international aid.

  9. it’s nothing new to the west. we’ve become desensitized to such news. our eyes glaze over, it seems so far away.

    I don’t think this is true based on my personal reaction to the BBC World coverage of this; I think it’s the total lack of media coverage in the US. I don’t really like media criticism that much because it often masks deeper problems, but if there’s one area where they fail, it’s prioritzation of “news” and ensuring that there’s international coverage in their broadcasts.

    If they covered African famines frequently (or at all) in the U.S. and similar issues, it would probably prompt more people to rethink the ways they look at the rest of the world, talk about it, pay attention, perhaps prompt their officials to take action the way they did with the tsunami. Similar to how if the media had devoted significant coverage to the implications of the melting of that peat bog in Siberia, it might prompt some reconsideration by Americans of the impact and future of global warming–it’s imo the biggest story that no one does justice to and it affects everyone.

    Even when I’m desensitized–like with the suicide bombings in Iraq–they news penetrates my consciousness somehow and becomes established as fact.