July 2, 2005

On Live 8 day, Niger shows West’s apathy on Africa

By Matthew Green

NIAMEY (Reuters) - Ask the man in charge of savingthousands from starving to death in Niger what he thinks of theLive 8 concerts and he shrugs: he hasn't heard of them.

What he does know is that the leaders of the Group of Eightindustrialized countries whom the organizers want to pressureinto doubling aid to Africa have largely ignored his country'spleas for help to tackle a devastating drought.

"People have to start dying before the internationalcommunity starts taking any notice," Seidou Bakari, thecoordinator of the government's food crisis unit said onSaturday, hours after the Live 8 extravaganza began.

"The response is very slow, and we can't understand it," hetold Reuters in an interview in his office in Niamey, thecapital of the West African country on the edge of the Sahara.

Niger said nine months ago that drought and locusts hadwiped out harvests, confronting 3.6 million people with foodshortages, but emergency donations to the mainly desert nationhave only begun trickling in during the past few weeks.

Aid workers say children have already begun to die ofhunger and disease in villages around the southern town ofMaradi, where people are simply too poor to buy food, and thatunless help comes soon thousands could die.

The tragedy is that it did not have to be this way.

"We launched an appeal in November, but who has responded?"said Bakari. "We would have reinforced our capacity to dealwith the crisis. We're relying virtually entirely on our ownfunds."


Live 8 organizer Bob Geldof hopes the concerts held incities including London, Tokyo and will pressure the leaders ofthe G8 to take concrete action to help Africa at a summit inScotland next week.

Niger shows just how little they often give.

Bakari said G8 members Britain, the United States, Canada,Italy and Russia had yet to send any money to Niger'sgovernment to tackle the crisis, despite months of appeals.

France, which is the key donor for a fund to tackle hungerin Niger alongside the European Union, has contributed afurther 1.5 million euros ($1.8 million) in the last few weeks.The EU has just given an extra 1.7 million euros in emergencyaid.

Japan and Germany have also chipped in.

The second poorest country in the world, Niger is a perfectexample of where rich governments respond to African crisesonly when they reach emergency levels, missing opportunities tosave lives by intervening earlier.

Bakari said Niger's government had been appealing since2003 for help to build up its cereal reserves, which had fallento the equivalent in stocks and cash of about 40,000 tonnesthat year, compared with more than 80,000 tonnes in 1991.

Supplies fell partly due to political instability duringthe 1990s, which had perhaps discouraged donors fromcontributing.

Bakari said had the aid come, there would be no crisis.

"We wanted to tell them that even though we didn't have afamine, we needed to build up our stocks," he said.

"They did nothing." ($1=.8275 Euro)